Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kirstin Lobato Free After 16 Years Behind Bars

lobato_celebrates.jpg
Vanessa Potkin
/

Kirstin Lobato celebrates her release from prison after 16 years behind bars for a murder she didn't commit.

Kirstin Blaise Lobato was freed from prison Wednesday after spending 16 years behind bars for a murder she didn’t commit.

Lobato was originally convicted of a brutal murder and mutilation of Duran Bailey, a homeless man, in 2001. Bailey had his teeth knocked out and his penis severed and thrown several feet from his body.  

His body was found near a dumpster on the evening of July 8, 2001. That date and time played an important role in Lobato’s exoneration, said attorney Vanessa Potkin with the Innocence Project.

Although Lobato was living in Las Vegas that spring and summer, she was in her hometown of Panaca -- an almost three-hour drive northeast of Las Vegas -- at the time of the murder.

There was no physical evidence that Lobato was ever near the crime scene. She had multiple alibis that placed her in Panaca.

So, how was she convicted?

Potkin explained that in May of that same year, Lobato had been attacked in the parking lot of a hotel in Las Vegas, but was able to get away by slashing at her attacker’s groin area with a knife. 

She never reported the incident to the police, but when she returned to her hometown, she told several of her friends and family.

And thus began a small-town rumor. 

Two weeks after Bailey was found dead, a person in Panaca had heard about what happened to Lobato and called Metro Police to ask about any crimes involving a man being injured in the groin area with a knife.

Metro Police detectives drove to Panaca to talk to Lobato about the Bailey case because of the similar description of the injury. Lobato believed they were asking about her attack and told them her story. They believed she was confessing to the homicide and arrested her.

“When you look at the statement, which police ultimately took as an admission to Bailey’s murder, all of the facts were different,” Potkin said, “She is describing a totally different incident. It is as clear as can be.”

Potkin also pointed out that Lobato had no connection to the victim and no motive. Her attorney also said that she was a small 18-year-old girl at the time who could not have done the physical damage that was done to Bailey.

Potkin said investigators did not thoroughly look for other suspects -- even after a woman came to the crime scene and told police that Bailey had been attacking women in the area and that she was one of them.

To make matters worse for Lobato, a judge’s decision to exclude testimony from people who had heard Lobato’s attack story well before Bailey’s murder made it so her defense couldn’t show that the attack and the murder were weeks apart.

Another problem with her defense goes back to the timeline. A pathologist for the prosecution said Bailey’s death could have happened up to 24 hours before his body was found, which meant Lobato could have made the six-hour round trip from Panaca to Las Vegas to kill him but be where witnesses said she was later that day.

Her defense at the time of her conviction did not get a forensic entomologist to disprove the prosecution’s timeline, Potkin said. And it was the lack of blowflies, which breed on decaying material, on Bailey’s body that showed he was killed much closer to when his body was found.

Ultimately, that meant Lobato was where she had said she was all along: Panaca.

A post-conviction investigationfound homicide detectives grossly neglected key evidence, and also suggests prosecutors tried to cover up their mistakes.

Potkin believes Lobato’s case exposes some of the biggest problems in our justice system. Even without physical evidence to put her at the scen,e the prosecution used a “smear campaign” in front of the jury to paint Lobato as a bad person.

“The prosecution just attempts to try to portray the accused person as a bad person,” she said, “Really assails their character to try to get a conviction.”

Potkin admits that Lobato had had her struggles but she was an 18-year-old girl who had her life together.

Another problem in the system that this case exposes, according to Potkin, is how difficult it is to get a case back into court.

Even after new evidence is found or new science shows that evidence presented in a case is false, it can be extremely difficult to get a case back before a judge and jury.

“We have to increase the ability for people to get back and for their claims to be heard,” she said.

Lobato was the second person in two months in Nevada’s prison system to be let go after spending years in prison for a murder they didn’t commit. Fred Steese spent 21 years in prison before seeing freedom.

Not only that, the prosecutor who got convictions for both Steese and Lobato— is now a judge in Las Vegas.

 

Vanessa Potkin, the Innocence Project

Stay Connected
Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.
Prior to taking on the role of Broadcast Operations Manager in January 2021, Rachel was the senior producer of KNPR's State of Nevada program for 6 years. She helped compile newscasts and provided coverage for and about the people of Southern Nevada, as well as major events such as the October 1 shooting on the Las Vegas strip, protests of racial injustice, elections and more. Rachel graduated with a bachelor's degree of journalism and mass communications from New Mexico State University.