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Crime News

Woman Exonerated in Husband's Murder 22 Years after Dramatic Conviction

Jane Dorotik spent two decades behind bars for the murder of her husband Robert, but maintained her innocence for years before finally winning her freedom.

By Benjamin H. Smith

UPDATE: Twenty-two years after being convicted of killing her husband Robert, Jane Dorotik was exonerated of the crime. 

In May 2022, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office requested that the court dismiss a charge of first-degree murder against Jane, whose husband Robert was found dead in February 2000.

Attorneys from the Loyola Law School's Loyola Project for the Innocent (LPI) joined Jane's defense team and helped her overturn her conviction in July 2020. At the time, prosecutors acknowledged that the evidence used to convict Jane had been "completely unreliable and did not support the conviction," according to the LPI.

Though the San Diego County District Attorney's Office initially sought a retrial, they dropped the murder charge a day before the second trial was set to begin. "After litigating the pre-trial motions in a fair and complete hearing and reviewing the court's subsequent rulings on admissible evidence and in particular the elimination of key tire track evidence, we have concluded we can no longer ethically proceed with the prosecution of this defendant because the evidence is now insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt," the motion read, according to CBS8 News.

An updated version of our original story follows:

From the outside, Robert and Jane Dorotik had the perfect home life. They had been married for 30 years and had three loving children. They lived on a ranch outside San Diego where Jane and her daughter Claire could indulge their love of horses.

The Dorotiks met in Southern California in the late ‘60s. Jane had a nursing degree and a good job in the pediatric department at UCLA Hospital. They were married in 1970 and children soon followed. They had a daughter, Claire, and two sons, Alex and Nicholas. Growing up, Jane instilled in her daughter a love of horses.

“Jane got Claire her first horse when she was maybe 9 or 10 years old, and I think it was love at first sight,” Jane’s sister Bonnie Long told Oxygen’s “Snapped.” 

Despite a seemingly good marriage, Bob and Jane had their differences. He was frugal and struggled to find a career while she made a six-figure salary working as a healthcare administrator and liked to spend the money she made. They fought about money.

“He was very angry, and things came to a head and they had been going to counseling and decided to separate,” said Bonnie Long. Bob filed for divorce in 1997, and Jane moved out to the ranch. They later tried to reconcile, though Bob’s relationship with his daughter suffered from the domestic tumult.

On the evening of Sunday, February 13, 2000, Jane Dorotik called the San Diego Sheriff’s Department. She said her husband was missing after having gone out jogging at 1:00 PM that afternoon. Jane and the police rightfully worried that the 55-year-old Bob may have had a heart attack or been the victim of a hit and run. Deputies searched the area as friends and family gathered around Jane to support her, except for Claire who was in Los Angeles for the weekend, but due home shortly.

The following morning, police found Bob Dorotik’s dead body a few miles down the road. To the detectives on the scene, it didn’t look like a hit and run.

“I could see that there was trauma to the head. However, I did not see a large amount of blood around the body,” Detective Rick Empson told “Snapped.” Empson also noticed that, despite wearing running clothes, Bob’s shoes were tied on the outside, and a piece of his scalp was inside his shirt, as if someone else had dressed him after he died.

“It was obvious to me that it was a murder. The body had been placed there and the murder occurred someplace else,” Empson said.

Not far from where Bob Dorotik was discovered, detectives found tire tracks and footprints that they believed were left when his body had been dumped. The medical examiner’s report revealed that he had died from blunt force trauma and strangulation. Undigested food in his stomach indicated his time of death was between late Saturday night and early Sunday morning, which was at least 15 hours before Jane Dorotik reported him missing.

Detectives searched the Dorotik ranch and as prosecutor Bonnie Howard-Regan told “Snapped,” “The natural suspicion is that the spouse could be a possible perpetrator.”

While Jane’s shoes didn’t match the footprints from the dumpsite, detectives discovered a damp spot on the carpet in the master bedroom that had recently been cleaned. They soon discovered bloodstains on the floor, walls and ceiling of the master bedroom, as well as on the underside of the mattress.

When detectives questioned Jane Dorotik about the voluminous amounts of blood they found, she said it was the result of a nosebleed Bob had several weeks back.

When police asked Jane to come down to the station house the next day for further questioning, she said she wanted to speak with an attorney, at which point she was arrested for the murder of her husband.

In May of 2001, Jane Dorotik went on trial for the murder of her husband, Bob. The prosecution believed they had mountains of evidence, including blood samples found in the bedroom and in Jane’s truck, whose tires matched the tracks found where the body was dumped. They also claimed Bob intended to divorce Jane, and as the higher earning spouse, she would have to pay Bob alimony, which would seriously cut into her life expenses, including her horse ranch.

When it came time for her defense, Jane Dorotik's attorney proposed an alternate suspect: the couple's 34-year-old daughter Claire.

The jury would never be able to hear Claire Dorotik’s side of the story since she invoked her Fifth Amendment rights at a pre-trial hearing. Likewise, Jane Dorotik declined to take the stand in her defense. The Dorotik sons, however, did take the stand, but to testify against their mother.

“She was very startled by the fact that her sons testified for the prosecution,” said Detective Rick Empson.

Lawyers made their final arguments by June 5, and after a week, they unanimously voted to convict Jane Dorotik on first-degree murder charges. That August she was sentenced to 25 years to life, though she continued asserting her innocence over the ensuing years. 

All through the prison, my prison journey, I continued to write to … all  innocence projects I could think of, asking for help. … At the same time, realized … that I had to fight for myself," Jane told CBS News' 48 Hours.

Jane ultimately secured the assistance of the Loyola Project for the Innocent in 2020 and together they argued that the evidence collected in the case, particularly the blood samples, weren't adequately tested. At a hearing, prosecutors conceded their claims about the evidence. And with that in question, they requested her conviction be overturned.

So why did Jane make the claim at her initial trial that the real killer was her daughter? She said her defense team was simply looking for an alternate suspect and she went along with it. When asked by 48 Hours if she believed her daughter Claire was responsible for Robert's death, she stated:

"Absolutely unequivocally not. And my defense attorney, everybody knew she was away for that weekend."

After her mother’s conviction, Claire Dorotik-Nana, who was never charged in connection with the case, became a licensed marriage and family therapist. In 2011, she published a book, "No Secret So Close: A True Story of a Father's Murder, a Mother's Betrayal, a Family Torn Apart, and the Horses That Turned It All Around," which discussed the circumstances surrounding the murder and trial.

In an interview for her 2015 book, "Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards," she said, “In February of 2000, my father was brutally murdered. A few days later, my mother was charged with the crime. As part of the defense strategy, my mother’s attorney accused me of murdering my own father… In reflecting back, I was always fascinated by how although horrible, I felt as though my experience gave me many gifts. As a practicing therapist, I not only found myself facilitating growth through adversity, but became curious about it myself.”

After her incarceration, Jane Dorotik became an advocate for prisoner’s rights.

[Photo: California Institution for Women]

Originally published May 9, 2018.