Rorrer has another day in court
BY DEBRA PALMIERI
The faces were the same. Perhaps the hair was a little grayer, thinner. Some were heavier; some were thinner.
Many of the original players had returned to the courtroom Nov. 6, some 25 years later, to possibly revise the fate of Patricia Lynne Rorrer, the convicted killer of Joanne Katrinak and her infant son, Alex, who had lived in Catasauqua before their deaths.
The pair were reported missing by husband and father Andrew Katrinak Dec. 15, 1994. Andrew Katrinak was also Rorrer’s former boyfriend.
The remains of the mother and son were found Palm Sunday 1995 in a wooded area of Heidelberg Township by a farmer plowing his field.
The key question in this habeas corpus hearing before Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas Judge Douglas Reichley was: Did the original prosecution withhold exculpatory evidence from Rorrer’s then-defense team, Attorneys James Burke and James Pfeiffer? Both these men attended the habeas corpus hearing, as did the original prosecutor, Michael McIntyre, and Pennsylvania State Trooper Robert Egan, who investigated the Katrinak murders.
Representing the commonwealth at the hearing was Lehigh County Chief of Administration and Chief of Appeals Attorney Heather F. Gallagher.
According to Attorney Troy Crichton, of Philadelphia, representing Rorrer, this exculpatory evidence included handwritten notes by a DNA expert in the margins of several pages of then-submitted evidence, which may not have been given to Burke and Pfeiffer. The most crucial of these notes, submitted by Crichton, concerned FBI Special Agent Joseph DiZinno, a mitochondrial DNA expert, who testified for the commonwealth at the original trial.
Dr. Harold Deadman was the FBI hair and fiber examiner of the hairs found in Katrinak’s car.
The then-relatively new mitochondrial DNA testing was the first non-FBI case and the first prosecution in Pennsylvania to use the analysis as evidence.
Eight hairs were found, six on the headrest of Katrinak’s Toyota and two near the bodies, one in a diaper bag, another among the debris.
At the Aug. 8, 1997, hearing, Burke argued there was no “resounding testimony regarding the hair” and that mitochondrial DNA analysis used on the hair was only a “means of excluding people.”
Testimony at that trial from DiZinno appeared to support Burke’s hypothesis. DiZinno said the DNA test “is a test to exclude or include.” He also said he could not give frequencies as to the number of times the same DNA sequences were seen in the FBI database.
DiZinno testified at the habeas corpus hearing, via Zoom from Virginia, concerning the notes in the margins. Under questioning from Crichton, DiZinno said he performed the mitochondrial DNA analysis, and he and Deadman prepared the May 30, 1997, lab report. DiZinno said Deadman was the primary examiner and he was the secondary examiner of the DNA.
Regarding the mitochondrial lab report from June 10, 1996, DiZinno said, “There is lots of handwriting,” which he identified as his.
DiZinno testified the back-seat hairs found in Katrinak’s car changed in color from light brown to blonde.
“I didn’t say it was artificially treated,” DiZinno told Crichton. “But it did change color.
At the time of the Katrinaks’ deaths, Rorrer’s hair was reportedly bleached blonde.
Crichton asked DiZinno if he referenced that anywhere else, that it was not artificially treated.
“It never made it into the typed report?” Crichton queried.
“I don’t know that,” DiZinno replied.
Crichton then said the information was not in exhibits A, B or C.
Gallagher then questioned DiZinno regarding exhibit A3.
“Does the fact that hair color is different mean it is not similar?” she asked.
DiZinno said there were similarities and differences with Rorrer’s hair.
“Every match is confirmed by another examiner,” DiZinno stated.
“Enough similarities that you went to mitochondrial testing?” Gallagher asked.
“Yes,” DiZinno responded.
Gallagher then asked if hair could be bleached but not artificially treated.
“Bleached by the environment, yes,” DiZinno replied.
Gallagher also asked if treated hair affects the DNA.
“No,” DiZinno replied.
Reichley then questioned DiZinno “to clarify a couple points: Were you requested to provide notes?” Reichley asked, regarding exhibit A3.
“I don’t remember, but it was a matter of routine,” DiZinno replied. “We would send everything. It was a Caucasian hair with roots, 9 inches or less, brown to blonde, root to tip.”
Reichley then questioned DiZinno about exhibit A - hairs from the seat back and diaper bag.
Following a brief break, both Crichton and Gallagher rested their cases. The two were to file their briefs within 30 days.
Attorney Christine F. Murphy, who was with Gallagher, addressed Reichley, saying each attorney would need 30 days after filing their briefs. Reichley said that would bring the case to early April 2024.
He then asked Rorrer if she had any questions.
Hearing none, he ordered her back to Muncy State Correctional Institution.