17 Years After Being Convicted of a Grisly Murder in Vegas, Kirstin Lobato Sees Her Charges Dismissed

Sloppy work by police and prosecutors sent teenager Kirstin Lobato to prison based on a rumor that she had cut off a man’s penis.

Kirstin Blaise Lobato, who was convicted of a July 2001 murder of Duran Bailey, at the Clark County Courthouse for her new hearing on the case on Oct. 12, 2017
Kirstin Blaise Lobato, who was convicted of a July 2001 murder of Duran Bailey, at the Clark County Courthouse for her new hearing on the case on Oct. 12, 2017. Photo: Jessica Chou for The Intercept

On December 29, more than a decade after she was first sent to prison in Nevada for a murder she did not commit, Kirstin Blaise Lobato saw the charges against her dismissed. “It is the end to her nearly 17-year nightmare,” said Vanessa Potkin, director of post-conviction litigation for the Innocence Project, which took on Lobato’s case. “It’s over.”

Lobato was twice convicted of the gruesome murder of a 44-year-old homeless man named Duran Bailey, whose body was found behind a dumpster off the Las Vegas Strip just after 10 p.m. on July 8, 2001, covered in a thin layer of trash. Bailey’s teeth had been knocked out and his eyes were bloodied and swollen shut; his carotid artery had been slashed, his rectum stabbed, and his penis amputated. It was found among the trash nearby.

Despite a crime scene rich with potential evidence, Las Vegas detectives Thomas Thowsen and James LaRochelle ignored obvious leads and instead focused their investigation on 18-year-old Lobato, based solely on a third-hand rumor.

Lobato, who was a stranger to Bailey, had an alibi for the day of the crime: She was at home with her parents in the small town of Panaca, nearly three hours northeast of Las Vegas near the Utah state line. Still, detectives and prosecutors insisted that Lobato had been in the city during the early morning hours of July 8, killing Bailey before setting off in her old Pontiac Fiero for the long drive up the unlit, mountainous highway, making it home in time to get cleaned up before being seen around the neighborhood later that morning.

The state’s theory of the crime fell apart this past October, when Potkin and a team from the Innocence Project presented nearly a week’s worth of testimony from several renowned entomologists and a medical examiner, each of whom demonstrated why the state’s narrative never made any scientific sense. In short, had Bailey been slaughtered in the pre-dawn hours and his body left outside all day in the summer heat, as the state claimed, blowflies — nature’s swift and ubiquitous first responders to scenes of death — would have quickly colonized his remains, leaving visible clusters of eggs in his various wounds.

Still, the prosecution would not be bowed: At the October hearing, prosecutor Sandra DiGiacomo tried to peddle the notion that flies in Las Vegas behave unlike flies everywhere else in the world. It didn’t work. In a detailed opinion filed December 19, Judge Stefany Miley concluded that the testimony of Lobato’s experts was credible, and had a jury heard such evidence, she might have been acquitted. Miley granted Lobato a new trial.

That left District Attorney Steven Wolfson with three possibilities: appeal the ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court (a longshot given the court had granted the hearing before Judge Miley based on its determination that Lobato’s alibi evidence was strong); retry the case (another loser option, particularly since Miley’s ruling left the DA without any evidence to try the case again), or dismiss the charges and free Lobato.

On Friday morning, Wolfson chose option three, and prosecutors went to court to ask that a judge dismiss the charges against Lobato “with prejudice” — meaning the state could never seek to prosecute her again for the crime.

By Friday afternoon, Potkin said she had spent the day on and off the phone with the Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center in Las Vegas trying to arrange for Lobato’s immediate release — as was called for in the judge’s order. “The defendant shall be released from the custody of the Nevada Department of Corrections forthwith,” Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez wrote. If Lobato isn’t released on December 29, Potkin said, she will have to remain in prison through New Year’s Day.

For Michelle Ravell, Lobato’s dedicated advocate, her release can’t come a minute too soon. Ravell said that Lobato, now 35, will live with her while she works to put her life back together. Indeed, Lobato has spent most of her adulthood locked up for a crime she did not commit. “I always knew this was going to happen,” Ravell said. “I just want to go and get her.”

Top photo: Kirstin Blaise Lobato, convicted of the July 2001 murder of Duran Bailey, at the Clark County Courthouse for a new hearing on the case on Oct. 12, 2017.

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