A former Panaca resident, Kirstin Blaise Lobato, has been exonerated after being convicted of murder and serving nearly 16 years in prison.
As reported by KLAS-TV in Las Vegas, Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson says he does believe Lobato is guilty of the murder charge, “because 24 jurors, two separate groups of 12, listened to the evidence and the facts and circumstances and found her guilty.”
But Wolfson also said the district attorney’s office was not going to pursue the case further and asked the court to dismiss the case.
Published reports in a newsletter by The Innocence Project state that on Dec. 29, 2017, Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez, acting on a motion from the Clark County district attorney’s office, dismissed all charges against Lobato, 34, and ordered her to be released from prison. She had always maintained her innocence throughout two previous trials.
There was no physical evidence linking her to the murder at the time.
The original murder conviction was reversed Dec. 19 by Clark County District Judge Stefany Miley.
A five-day hearing in October 2017, sparked by the Innocence Project, which had taken on her case, found that Lobato’s defense lawyers had violated her constitutional right to effective legal representation by failing to call pathology and entomology (insect scientist) experts in the 2001 trial regarding the time of death of the victim, which would have supported her alibi that she was in Panaca at the time of the murder.
Vanessa Potkin, Post-Conviction Litigation Director of the project, said, “Ms. Lobato has spent all of her young adulthood wrongly incarcerated for a crime she did not commit…Despite the strong evidence that Ms. Lobato played no role in the crime, including alibi evidence that she was three hours away from Las Vegas on the day the victim was killed, the police focused exclusively and inexplicably on her as a suspect. We are grateful that the prosecutor’s office moved expeditiously to dismiss her charges after the decision.”
The case stems from the 2001 murder of Duran Bailey, a homeless man in Las Vegas.
His body was found about 10 p.m. on July 8 next to a dumpster close to a bank building. The body had been badly brutalized, including the eyes being swollen shut, several teeth knocked out, and the skull fractured. In addition, the penis had been removed.
Lobato, then living in Panaca, said she was visiting friends in Las Vegas in late May 2001. One evening she was attacked in a motel parking lot by an unknown man in a rape attempt. However, she fought off the attacker using a small pocket knife which she carried for protection. Lobato said she slashed at the attacker’s groin area and probably did cut him. She escaped from his grasp and as she fled the scene, saw the man lying on the ground and crying.
As reported in the Innocence Project newsletter, she recounted the details of the attack to several people, making it clear the attack occurred in May, not in July when Bailey was murdered.
On July 20, 2001, Las Vegas Metro Police Department detectives reported receiving a phone call from a Panaca resident claiming Lobato had told her she cut off a man’s penis in Las Vegas.
Comparing the information with the known condition of Bailey’s body, detectives drove to the Lobato home in Panaca. She gave a statement saying she had been attacked in May in a motel parking lot, not near a dumpster, and that when she left the scene of the attack, the man was still alive, although she thought she had slashed him pretty well with her knife.
Based on her accounts, and other statements, detectives felt they had enough to be considered a confession of murder and arrested Ms. Lobato and charged her with murder.
In the meantime, on July 1, 2001, Bailey assaulted and raped another woman in Las Vegas. She reported the incident to police on July 5 despite threats by Bailey that he would kill her if she did report the rape. She also told a few male neighbors of hers about the rape, men who already had an ongoing dispute with Bailey. On July 8, Bailey was found dead next to the dumpster in the area of the bank.
The Innocence Project newsletter said police ignored this evidence of a possible alternative murderer at Lobato’s trial later in October.
The Clark County District Attorney’s office relied heavily on Lobato’s statement to detectives, insisting she had really been attacked by Bailey in July, not in May as she claimed.
Defense attorneys presented numerous witnesses who testified Ms. Lobato was actually in Panaca on July 8. The prosecution even admitted she was in Panaca that day, at least as of 11:30, but could not account for her whereabouts prior to that time.
At trial, the medical examiner stated that Bailey had been dead about 24 hours when the body was found, meaning death occurred approximately at 4 a.m. the morning of July 8.
The prosecution then summarized that it was Lobato who had killed Bailey in the early morning hours of July 8, then drove back to Panaca.
The jury took the case under deliberation and brought back a guilty verdict.
Lincoln County Sheriff Kerry Lee said he was a patrol sergeant at the time of her arrest in 2001 and had been asked to accompany the Las Vegas Metro Homicide Division detectives when they questioned and then arrested Lobato at her parents’ home.
He said the family moved to California some years ago and has not heard of them since.
In October 2017, at a new trial requested by the Innocence project, testimony was given by three forensic entomologists, that had not been given in the original trial.
Each scientist concluded, as stated in the newsletter, that with the known weather conditions of Las Vegas on July 8, 2001, “Based on the outdoor location where Bailey’s body was found, one would expect to see his body teeming with blowfly eggs within a short time after death.” Blowflies usually arrive very shortly after death of a body left in the open and lay hundreds of observable eggs in the fresh wounds or bodily orifices.
But Bailey’s body did not have any blowfly eggs when discovered, leading the forensic pathologists to conclude that the time of death was much closer to when the body was actually found at 10 p.m., maybe two or three hours before, at a time when Ms. Lobato was known to be three hours away in Panaca.
The newsletter report continues, “Based on this compelling scientific evidence which could have been presented at Lobato’s trial and which would have likely changed the jury’s outcome, (District Court) Judge Miley granted Lobato’s habeas corpus petition and vacated her convictions.”