The Kirstin Lobato Case: An American Miscarriage of Justice
Last week marked ten years since Kirstin “Blaise” Lobato was initially found guilty in the killing of Duran Bailey, a 44 year-old homeless man who had been stabbed and sexually mutilated in Las Vegas in July 2001. Despite substantial evidence affirming her innocence and clear reversible error by the presiding judge, Ms. Lobato remains in the same Nevada prison where she has spent most of the last decade. Her case is now emerging as one of the foremost unjust convictions in the United States today.
The case is marked by a rock solid alibi (170 miles from the crime scene) and a complete lack of physical evidence linking her to the crime. Blaise’s conviction was based entirely on statements she had made about a similar but unrelated altercation that occurred weeks before the murder. During Blaise’s second trial in 2006, Judge Valerie Vega ruled that the jury could not hear the exonerating testimony of eight eye-witnesses who had at times prior to the July 8 murder seen Blaise speak of this same incident that she later described to investigators.
The body of Duran Bailey was found at 10:30PM on July 8, 2001 in a Las Vegas trash enclosure. The location was in the parking lot of a bank in a well-populated area of town where it is unlikely that a violent struggle during daylight hours would have gone unnoticed. The victim had been repeatedly stabbed and his penis had been amputated. Medical examiners noted full rigor-mortis at 3:50AM that morning but did little else to effectively determine the time of death. In her latest appeal documents, defense experts pointed out that the lack of insects near the body almost certainly meant that the time of death was after sundown that day. Daytime temperatures had reached 95 degrees at midday.
By the spring of 2001 Kirstin Lobato, then 18, had completed high school and had started to use methamphetamines. On May 25, 2001 she was attacked in the early morning hours by an unknown assailant in the parking lot of a Las Vegas Budget Suites Hotel. As she describes it, she fended off the attempted sexual assault by using a knife to slash at her the attacker’s groin. This man has never been located and never apparently sought medical attention for any of his possible injuries.
Over the following six weeks, Blaise described these traumatic events to at least eight different people who were not family members. When Las Vegas police officers investigating Bailey’s death became aware of these conversations, they decided to follow up. The similarities between Bailey’s July 8 murder and the May 25 attack were significant. In both cases the attacker was black and there were slash wounds to the groin. Both events occurred in Las Vegas although Blaise gave a specific location eight miles away.
Kirstin Blaise Lobato never met Duran Bailey. She did not know who he was and she was never present at the location where the murder took place. No one saw her in Las Vegas during the relevant times and there is not a shred of physical evidence linking her to the crime.
The eight people who heard Blaise talk of the May 25 incident are Doug Twining, Steve Pyskowski, Michelle Austria, Heather Mcbride, Kimberlee Isom Grindstaff, Daniel Lisoni, Chris Collier, and Catherine Reininger. Links to their statements are available at the end of this article.
The first place that anyone seeking serious information about the case should look is the alibi table put together by Hans Sherrer, available in the links below. See also the statements of those referenced in his table. Mr. Sherrer’s superb book about the case, Kirstin Blaise Lobato’s Unreasonable Conviction, is available on Amazon.com.
Kirstin Blaise Lobato was in Panaca, Nevada continuously from July 2 up until the time that Duran Bailey’s body was discovered on July 8, 2001. Panaca is 170 miles from the crime scene meaning that a round trip by car would take at least six hours. Not surprisingly the only witnesses who can verify that Blaise was asleep in her room during the night of July 7-8 (between 14 and 20 hours before the discovery of the body) are her parents and other relatives who lived in the same house with her. Other witnesses not related to Blaise give specific details in sworn affidavits about her presence in Panaca on both the evening of July 7 and the early morning of July 8. The idea that she made the six hour round trip that night is just grasping at straws.
Blaise was tried twice for the crime. In both cases Judge Valerie Vega presided. Her first conviction in 2002 for first degree murder was overturned on appeal. The second trial in 2006 ended in a conviction for voluntary manslaughter and sexual penetration of a corpse. Blaise was sentenced to 13-35 years. Both the prosecution and defense believed that the verdict represented a compromise between jurors. Blaise had in fact been offered a plea deal that would have only resulted in a three year prison sentence.
Judge Vega is a controversial judge who is now best known for directing a jury in another murder trial to deliberate through the night after having spent the entire day listening to testimony. She was concerned that any unanticipated extension of the trial might interfere with her vacation plans.
Over the past five years all of Blaise’s appeals have been denied. Her present counsel appears to be doing a pretty good job but there are serious questions about the quality of her court appointed attorneys in the earlier proceedings. At least one petition to the US Supreme Court has been denied. At present she is presenting a lengthy Habeas Corpus petition to the Nevada Supreme Court. For reasons that remain unclear, that court is refusing to accept an Amicus Curiae brief prepared by a group of wrongful conviction organizations.
The Hearsay Rulings
Investigators believed that statements made by Blaise about the May 25 incident actually referred to the July 8 murder. This “confession” formed the basis of the case against her. As stated before, the defense sought to present powerful eye-witness statements of those who had seen Blaise talk of these same events prior to July 8, but Judge Vega considered this testimony to be hearsay and ruled it inadmissible.
Hearsay is an important legal concept designed to insure that any statements presented in court are subject to cross examination. If you testify that you saw something then it’s not hearsay. If you testify that something happened because somebody told you about it, then it’s hearsay. Hearsay is generally inadmissible although there are a number of exceptions defined in federal and state law. Examples include dying statements, excited utterances, and prior inconsistent statements. In all there are about 30 exceptions.
Central to the concept of hearsay is the “matter asserted.” Typically if a witness describes a conversation with someone in the past, some elements of the conversation are hearsay and some aren’t depending on what is trying to be proven. Sworn testimony describing a conversation can be used to show that someone was alive at that time or present at a certain location. It might also be used to show that the person had specific knowledge at a point in time. The details of what the person described are considered to be hearsay.
Curiously her present lawyers may not be making the best arguments about the testimony excluded on hearsay grounds. In Ground 46 of the Habeas Corpus petition they seem to concede that the prior incident testimony is hearsay but say it should be admitted under one of the exceptions allowed under Nevada law.
The better argument is that the testimony in question is not in fact hearsay. The “matter asserted” is that at a time prior to July 8 Blaise had spoken of the same events that she described to investigators on July 20, 2001. Based on what the eye-witnesses describe, the jurors would be free to consider the critical point of fact of whether Blaise was talking about the same incident that she later described to investigators. Any determination of what actually occurred on the night of May 25, 2001 would in fact be hearsay but that is irrelevant to the question at hand.
The Link to the Amanda Knox Case
Over the past several years a powerful grass roots organization came together surrounding the case of Amanda Knox, an American exchange student whose murder conviction in Perugia, Italy was recently overturned. The case was a tabloid sensation in Europe largely because both the victim and one of the accused were attractive young women. Blaise’s case has so far attracted none of the media attention present in that case. In recent weeks a number of those who had worked so hard to argue for the innocence of Amanda Knox have taken an interest in the case of Kirstin Blaise Lobato.
Blaise’s case is similar to Amanda’s in some ways and quite different in others. In Amanda’s case there was limited access to the trial record and the result was an important public debate largely based on Internet blog hearsay. Rival groups emerged and a ferocious online conflict ensued, often featuring outright hate speech. In Blaise’s case there is exquisite access to the relevant trial materials online. Not one observer of the case has emerged to argue for her guilt.
Kirstin Blaise Lobato is innocent of the murder of Duran Bailey. Her case is every bit as outrageous as Amanda Knox’s. Stay tuned.
Habeas Corpus Petition
Prior Statement Witnesses
http://www.justice4kirstin.com/transcripts2/Trialday16.pdf (Robert McCrosky p.5-20)
http://www.justice4kirstin.com/transcripts2/Trialday16.pdf (Wanda McCrosky p.20-30)
http://www.justice4kirstin.com/transcripts2/Trialday6.pdf (Paul Brown p.113-143)
http://www.justice4kirstin.com/transcripts2/Trialday8.pdf (Chris Carrington p.88-143)
http://www.justice4kirstin.com/transcripts2/Trialday19.pdf (Doug Twinning p.29-94)
http://www.justice4kirstin.com/transcripts2/Trialday17.pdf (Clint Hohman p.87-111)
http://www.justice4kirstin.com/transcripts2/Trialday15.pdf (Jo Dennert Wuori p.6-29)
http://www.justice4kirstin.com/transcripts2/Trialday15.pdf (Shayne Kraft p.82-113)
http://www.justice4kirstin.com/transcripts2/Trialday15.pdf (John Kraft p.114-133)
http://www.justice4kirstin.com/transcripts2/Trialday17.pdf (Kendra Thurston p. 111-117)