LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Nevada woman who was convicted and imprisoned at age 19 in the 2001 killing and sexual mutilation of a homeless man in Las Vegas has new lawyers and a national criminal defense advocacy group backing her bid to prove she was 165 miles away when the murder took place.
Kirstin Blaise Lobato, now 34, got a chance for a new hearing after the Nevada Supreme Court ruled in December that there was "strong alibi evidence" that she was in her hometown, Panaca, on the day Duran Bailey died.
Lobato family members and several other people testified they saw Lobato in Panaca at various times on July 8, the day a medical examiner testified that Bailey died between about 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. His body was found the next day. The drive between Panaca and Las Vegas can take almost 3 hours.
Lobato was seen riding a four-wheel vehicle near her house about mid-day July 8, and friends testified they were with her at her home that evening.
The state high court also faulted a decision by Lobato's trial lawyers not to hire an expert witness to pinpoint Bailey's time of death.
It said an evidence hearing might bolster Lobato's alibi defense; let her defense demonstrate that someone else might have killed Bailey; allow the court to hear new alibi witnesses; and undermine the state's theory of the case.
"We conclude that further consideration of these claims is warranted," the justices said.
Attorney David Chesnoff said this week he agreed to represent Lobato for free with Barry Scheck, co-founder of the New York-based Innocence Project. Scheck is well-known nationally and was a member of the criminal defense "dream team" that won acquittal of former NFL star O.J. Simpson at his 1995 murder trial in Los Angeles.
"I think the resources the Innocence Project and our office can bring can be very helpful to the pursuit of the truth," Chesnoff said. "Our hope is to present expert forensic testimony that will validate her alibi."
Clark County District Court Judge Stefany Miley on Wednesday scheduled a Feb. 22 date to set an evidence hearing.
Establishing a time of death is crucial for Lobato's defense that she couldn't have killed Bailey, 44, cut off his genitals with a pocket knife, stabbed him and left his body in a trash bin in Las Vegas.
No physical evidence or witnesses connected Lobato to the murder, but Las Vegas police and Clark County prosecutors said Lobato confessed that she killed Bailey during a three-day methamphetamine binge.
Jurors were told that Bailey tried to rape Lobato after she refused his attempts to trade sex for drugs.
Lobato maintained that although she told people that she used a knife to defend herself during a sexual assault in Las Vegas, she was referring to an incident that happened outside a motel months before and across town from where Bailey was killed.
Her lawyers contended she never met Bailey.
A jury convicted Lobato in 2002 of the killing. But the state Supreme Court in 2004 threw out the verdict after Lobato argued that her attorneys hadn't been able to cross-examine a prosecution witness who said she confessed to the slaying while in jail awaiting trial.
Lobato was tried and convicted again in 2006 and was sentenced to 13 to 45 years in prison. She becomes eligible for parole in August 2018.