Content Warning: Violent crime.
When detectives arrived at the grisly crime scene just off the Las Vegas strip on July 8th, 2001, they found the body of a man that had been brutally murdered and left behind a dumpster. The victim, later identified as a homeless man from St. Louis named Duran Bailey, had suffered a multitude of injuries, not the least of which was having his genitals severed and tossed aside the dumpster. He had teeth knocked out, a cracked skull, a severed carotid artery and multiple stab wounds. The autopsy later revealed his anus had been cut up and semen had been found inside as well.
Based on just this information so far, if I asked you to picture the murderer, who would you picture? Likely a man, right? I mean, men do tend to have a monopoly on producing semen for the most part, no? Would you picture someone strong? Muscular? Able to brutalize a grown man in the way Bailey had been?
You didn’t picture a 100lb 18-year-old, did you? You didn’t picture a teenaged girl, right?
So, how did Kirstin Lobato end up serving 15 years for the crime? Now 35, Lobato was just 18 at the time of the murder and weighed near 100lbs.
It all starts with the crime scene, which took 5 hours to process. The evidence was extensive and provided many leads that detectives could follow. There were cigarette butts, chewing gum, Bailey’s bloody pants. There were 22 fingerprints recovered, as well. The problem was the detectives didn’t follow up on any of this evidence save for asking a few people a few questions, and for eleven days after the discovery of the body, no progress was made on the case. To be clear, there was plenty they could have done, many leads they could have followed, but detective Thomas Thowsen and his partner, James LaRochelle did not.
What they did do, instead, was sit on the case for 11 days and then take information obtained from a phoned-in tip as gospel. The caller even made sure the detectives knew that her story was second-hand. Her story? She heard from someone that someone else had admitted to cutting off a man’s penis in Vegas.
The supposed confession came from a person who was quickly identified as Kirstin Lobato. She was arrested on the same day.
Here was a tiny, teenaged girl, arrested for the severe beating that came after (or before) an apparent rape of a grown man. Once interrogated, they found she had an alibi – one that could be backed up by one of Lobato’s neighbours. None of the vast amounts of evidence recovered from the crime scene matched Lobato. Even more infuriating, the story a tipster phoned in about Lobato cutting off a man’s penis? It happened, but it was a mere stab after a man tried to assault her, and it happened in May. May. Bailey was murdered in July.
Despite the piles of exculpatory evidence growing, law enforcement officials powered on with their case against the girl.
Lobato was charged with the murder of Duran Bailey. She plead not guilty and the trial went to a jury. Eventually, she was convicted of murder with a deadly weapon and sexual penetration of a human dead body. She was sentenced to 100 years.
Here’s what we know:
- The crime was so brutal, it had to have required strength that 100lb Lobato did not have.
- Lobato’s “confession” related to an incident 2 months prior to Bailey’s murder.
- Lobato was hours away from Vegas at the time of the murder and this has been confirmed by other people.
- The source of the semen found on the body had not been determined, nor had the semen been tested.
- Chewing gum and cigarettes found at the scene provided 4 different DNA profiles, none of which were Lobato.
- Of the 22 fingerprints at the scene, none of them matched Lobato.
- The murder weapon was never discovered or identified.
- One of Bailey’s old acquaintances came forward with a story that has led many to believe she was the actual murderer. This lead was allowed to go cold when the acquaintance died in 2005.
- The bloody shoe prints at the scene indicated a shoe size 2.5 sizes larger than Lobato’s.
- The only evidence against Lobato was the story as told by the original tipster who had heard the rumours second-hand.
In 2004, Lobato’s conviction was reversed in the Supreme Court of Nevada because the defense had been unable to cross-examine certain prosecution witnesses. She was granted a new trial in 2006 and convicted of manslaughter. Her sentence was now 13-45 years in prison.
When Lobato filed a request to have the DNA in the Bailey case tested, she caught the attention of the Innocence Project. The request to test the evidence was denied, but the lawyers from the Innocence Project continued to pursue this case.
Finally, in 2014, a judge agreed to hear the arguments for granting Lobato a new trial. On Dec. 19th, 2017, that new trial was granted.
It took no time at all for the judge to realize what a load of garbage Lobato’s conviction was. On Dec. 29th, Lobato was exonerated after spending nearly 16 years in prison. 16 years, during which the real killer remained free, potentially killing others. 16 years for detectives to follow any of the hundreds of other leads they’d been given by called-in tips, the evidence at the crime scene and Bailey’s past acquaintances. Instead, an innocent 18-year-old girl went to prison for 16 years, sacrificing her entire young adulthood and coming of age in the joint.
Kirstin Lobato is the 200th person to be exonerated with the help of the Innocence Project, who are investigating up to 8000 cases at any given time.
- Wikipedia – The Trials of Kristin Lobato
- Nightmare in Sin City
- Innocence Project – Kirstin Lobato
- Innocence Project – Donate
#Innocents is an ongoing series telling the stories of wrongful convictions in North America. To read more of these stories, please click here. If you have a story of someone wrongfully convicted, or you were yourself and want to talk about it, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. See my two previous series on the American Justice System, The Ultimate Punishment and Reasonable Doubt.
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Image: Creative Commons/Pixabay