I-Team: Evidence, testimony could free woman accused in mutilation murder

LAS VEGAS - A Nevada woman who has spent 15 years in prison for a sensational mutilation murder may soon get a new chance of freedom. 

Her name is Kirstin Blaise Lobato, and her case has gained international attention. Wednesday morning in court, a big surprise was uncorked and Lobato supporters think it could lead to her eventual release.

Prisons are filled with people who say they are innocent. Blaise Lobato might be the real deal.

She's been convicted twice in the 2001 murder and sexual mutilation of a homeless man, even though the evidence was circumstantial or contradictory. She was sentenced to more than 45 years for voluntary manslaughter but the Nevada Supreme court ruled back in November that there were serious problems with the earlier verdicts, and now, Lobato will move forward with the help of a legal heavyweight.

The status check hearing lasted only a few minutes but could carry huge implications for Blaise Lobato. It's the first time in eight years Lobato has been outside the walls of a state prison, and she was understandably on edge.

"I spoke to her last night. It was nerve wracking, just to even think about leaving the prison because it is outside her normal everyday routine," said Michelle Ravell, Lobato's friend.

She has maintained frequent contact for all of the 15 years Lobato has spent behind bars for a crime that Ravell, and many others, think was committed by someone else.

In July 2001, the mutilated body of a homeless man named Duran Bailey was found in a dumpster west of the Strip. Bailey had been savagely beaten and his genitals sliced off. Weeks later, police arrested Lobato, largely because she had told someone in her hometown of Panaca that she had used a knife to defend herself during a sexual assault in Las Vegas, an incident that happened weeks before Bailey was killed. There was no physical evidence to connect Lobato to the crime scene or the murder, no eyewitnesses either, but she was convicted in 2002.

The verdict was overturned. Lobato was convicted again in 2006. In the years since, the case has gained international attention. More than 100,000 people signed an online petition calling for a new trial. In November, the state supreme court again remanded the case back to district court, ordering a hearing to consider matters that were excluded from the earlier trials including statements from eyewitnesses who said Lobato was in Panaca, 170 miles away, during the time Bailey was killed.

"Evidence of her being elsewhere when the crime was committed being withheld from the jury. How do you expect the jury to come up with an intelligent decision when they don't have all the facts? Ravell said.

Something else the jury never heard was that Lobato took and passed two polygraph tests. Veteran polygraph examiner Ron Slay wrote the report and has said he believes Lobato is innocent.

"Again, they said if you pass this polygraph, we will let you go. She passed the polygraph but they didn't let her go. She's spent 15 years in prison for something she didn't do," Ravell said.

The surprise unveiled in court is that Lobato will no longer be represented by court appointed counsel. The Innocence Project contacted prominent defense attorney David Chesnoff this week and he agreed to handle the case from here on out.

Lobato and her supporters think there is light at the end of the tunnel.

"I think she has a better chance now than she's ever had before. Expert testimony obtained since the original conviction has whittled down the time frame of when the murder occurred. Lobato has eight or more alibi witnesses saying she was nowhere near Las Vegas at the time of the crime.

Her new attorneys expect to hold a formal hearing this May to introduce the evidence and testimony that was previously excluded.
 


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