By KATHY CHANG
EDISON — Former Edison Police Officer Michael Dotro, charged with attempted murder for allegedly setting fire to his police captain’s home in Monroe Township in 2013, has won a small battle in his defense.
In a 12-page decision made public on Feb. 27, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey agreed with the trial court that it properly considered the state’s and defendant’s positions on Dotro’s request for his expert to examine Dotro’s 2001 Dodge Ram pickup truck, which has been in the state’s custody as evidence since his arrest.
The state was represented by Assistant Prosecutor Nancy A. Hulett, and Dotro was represented by his Westfield-based attorney Robert Norton.
Dotro’s attorney had requested an expert examine his truck without a representative from the Middlesex County Prosecutor Office present because it would compromise his defense. However, the state argued that there were safeguard concerns with the evidence of the truck. When the trial court ruled in Dotro’s favor, the state appealed.
After weighing the state and Dotro’s opposing positions, the Appellate Court’s decision stated that the trial court reasonably determined the defendant’s need to examine the truck out of the presence of a prosecutor’s office representative to prepare a defense.
“The court found a [Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office] representative would be able to discern from defendant’s expert’s examination the ‘nature of [defendant’s] defense,’” the court stated. “Therefore, the presence of a [Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office] representative would [prevent] defendant from preparing a defense.”
The court remanded the matter to the trial court with conditions, which include having two retired Superior Court judges present to proctor the inspection of the truck. These judges will be chosen by the prosecutor’s office from a list provided by the defense.
Also the videographer has to keep its focus on the expert’s hands while another camera is pointed at the rest of the truck.
In May 2013, Dotro was charged with five counts of attempted murder and one count of aggravated arson for allegedly setting fire to the Monroe home of his superior officer, Mark Anderko, who is now retired.
Anderko was home at the time, along with his wife, two children and his mother. No one was injured.
Along with the five counts of attempted murder, Dotro also faces charges of criminal mischief, unlawful possession of a destructive device used to set the fire, hindering his apprehension or prosecution by providing false information to investigators and retaliation for past official action of the police captain.
The state’s investigation led to the review of a Quick Chek surveillance video near Anderko’s home, which showed, minutes before the fire erupted at Anderko’s home, a dark-colored pickup truck made a right turn out of the Quick Chek parking lot and headed in the direction of Anderko’s residence.
The video further revealed a dark-colored truck drive by the Quick Chek in the opposite direction toward defendant’s home in Manalapan 15 minutes later.
The prosecutor’s office also found a blue rag that smelled of gasoline — similar to those found at the crime scene — under the front seat of Dotro’s truck.
The state’s investigation also revealed that approximately one month before the fire, Dotro, who had been a nine-year veteran of the Edison Police Department, was angry at Anderko for putting him on a undesirable shift as a form of discipline.
In November 2016, two more charges were levied against Dotro for conspiring to commit an aggravated arson on the home of another superior officer and a related count of official misconduct in April 2013, one month prior to the firebombing of Anderko’s home.
Dotro is expected to appear before Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Pedro Jimenez, sitting in New Brunswick, on March 17.