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A woman convicted nearly 20 years ago for the murder of her husband won an early release from prison this week after successfully arguing that she was at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 while incarcerated.
Jane Dorotik, 73, was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison in 2001 for the crime, but she was afforded a taste of freedom sooner than expected; a San Diego Superior Court judge on Monday ruled that Dorotik be released from the California Institution for Women in Chino, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
The decision came after lawyers with the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent filed an emergency plea on Dorotik’s behalf, citing her age, preexisting health conditions, and reports the coronavirus is often more fatal among those in the prison population as grounds for her early release, the paper reports. Attorneys also argued that Dorotik was likely to be exonerated in the future.
Dorotik, a former resident of Valley Center, was sentenced in August 2001 for her husband’s murder, according to a Chicago Tribune report. On Valentine’s Day that year, the body of Robert Dorotik was found dumped along a road where he often liked to run.
Dorotik had reported him missing the previous day, only to be convicted months later of beating and strangling her husband in an alleged effort to protect her financial assets, as she allegedly feared losing 40 percent of her income to him in the event of a divorce, per the 2001 Tribune report.
Even then, Dorotik maintained her innocence, stating after her sentencing, "I loved my husband. I still love my husband. This has not been justice that's served here."
Following a hearing held by phone due to coronavirus precautions, Superior Court Judge Harry Elias granted Dotorik’s release this week, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. She will wear an ankle monitor and reside with her sister in Los Angeles County; she will also quarantine herself for two weeks, and is barred from leaving the state of California, the paper reports.
A representative for the California Institution for Women confirmed to Oxygen.com that Dorotik was released on Thursday. A later Instagram post from the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent shows Dorotik opening a care package after her release.
The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office argued against Dorotik’s release in a statement obtained by Oxygen.com.
“The District Attorney's Office supports the thoughtful and careful release of certain inmates who are nearing the end of their terms and/or have medical conditions that place them at risk and we have moved proactively to facilitate medical releases in San Diego County,” public affairs officer Tanya Sierra said. “However, we opposed the court's immediate release of this particular inmate because Ms. Dorotik was convicted by a jury of murdering her husband, and her murder conviction has been reviewed and upheld multiple times. We presented our position that this case did not merit extraordinary relief in spite of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis due to the very serious nature of the crime and the fair review processes available.”
“Anticipated additional litigation has not yet taken place and Ms. Dorotik is currently eligible for parole in 2022,” she continued.
Lawyers with the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent have been arguing for some time that Dorotik deserves a new trial based on a number of factors, including what they have claimed is false evidence that was used against her, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. They have also filed a habeas corpus petition — a claim that an individual’s imprisonment is unlawful — on Dotorik’s behalf.
Dorotik’s release is temporary, and she is scheduled to return to court for a status hearing in 30 days, according to the City News Service. On the subject of Dorotik’s possible exoneration, Paula Mitchell, legal director of the Project for the Innocent legal director, is hopeful.
"We are so relieved and grateful to Judge Elias for granting our request and ordering the release of our client," reads a statement obtained by the outlet. "Given the ample evidence we have presented to the court showing that Ms. Dorotik is innocent, we have every reason to believe the court will ultimately conclude that she did not receive a fair trial and that she was convicted because the jury relied on significant forensic evidence that was demonstrably false."
Dorotik had previously spoken out about her coronavirus fears while incarcerated, telling the San Francisco Chronicle for a report published last week that she and other inmates feel like “sitting ducks.”
“We all feel like we are sitting ducks, fearful of becoming dead ducks,” she told the outlet. “The only real solution to save lives behind bars is to release.”
One inmate and two employees at the California Institution for Women had tested positive for COVID-19 as of April 23, according to statistics made available by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The men’s prison in Chino has had 69 inmates and 23 employees test positive for the virus, further tracking data shows.
The number of infected staff members at CIM is higher than at any other facility in the state, while the number of infected inmates at CIM is second only to the California State Prison in Los Angeles County, which has a confirmed 73 cases among their inmate population to date.
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