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Death in the Desert: 15 years later, a conviction turns into a desperate plea for freedom

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UPDATE

In January 2018, Lobato was cleared of her conviction after spending more than 16-years locked up in a state prison.

At 35 years old, she said this to News 3 cameras: "I'm so thankful for all these people that believed in me and fought for me for all these all these years.”


Original Story

The following story was based on what unfolded during trials.

"I got out of my car and he grabbed me from behind." The recording is off then 18-year-old Kirstin "Blaise" Lobato, describing to LVMPD investigators how a methamphetamine-fueled trip to Las Vegas ended in mayhem.

POLICE RECORDING:

LOBATO: "He came out of nowhere and grabbed me from behind. I cut his penis, I remember that."

LVMPD: "After you got done struggling with him; was he on the ground or standing up?"

LOBATO: "He was on the ground."

LVMPD: "Was he making any noise at that point?"

LOBATO: "He was, he was crying."

And jury decided, he was 44-year-old Duran Bailey, a homeless man, brutally killed -- chest stabbed, head beaten and genitalia removed.

Lobato told police a man tried to sexually assault her near Boulder Highway in 2001 and to defend herself, she pulled out a knife and cut him in the groin. In July, Bailey was found dead across town.

"Oh my God, what happened here?" said Judge Bill Kephart.

This is District Court Judge Kephart in the only post-conviction interview he's given since he prosecuted Lobato's case; his memories of the crime are still vivid.

"I'm given a task to present evidence we have, certainly no evidence that was manufactured. We present what we have to the jury and let the jury decide."

According to police, Bailey was left behind a trash bin near what's now the Palms casino. Officers found his mutilated body covered with debris. No knife or sharp weapon was discovered at the crime scene but police eventually recovered incriminating statements they say were made by Lobato.

Three hours from Las Vegas, in the rural town of Panaca, prosecutors said Lobato confided in a teacher that she did something bad and she could've hurt somebody. Lobato told her confidant she was nearly raped and had no choice but to fight back after her assailant pushed her down until he was on top of her. She told about seeing him stumble. All she wanted to do was get washed and go home. She drove off upset.

POLICE RECORDING:

LOBATO: "I figured no one would know, no one was around. I figured nobody would care if I just drove off. I didn't think anybody would miss somebody like that."

Lobato's tearful words were described as a confession and prosecutors used that interview, along with other evidence to convict her - twice. Once in 2002 and again after a retrial in 2006.

"I do believe she did not do this," said Phil Kohn.

Phil Kohn was Lobato's first public defender. He calls her convictions shocking.

"There is no evidence that ties her to the crime, other than her statement and I think the statement was not complete by any means and I think that's what troubles all of us," said Kohn.

For Michelle Ravell, the gruesome killing was an act impossible for Lobato to commit.

"What do I believe? I believe, I know, that you cannot commit a crime when you're 170 miles away," said Ravell.

Ravell is Lobato's surrogate mother and believes Kirstin was back in her hometown, Panaca, at the time of Bailey's killing, not in Las Vegas and she says Lobato was known as a person who detested dirt. Her confidant even stated Lobato was at the point of almost taking immaculate to the extreme.

"That crime scene, whoever did it was covered in blood. The scene was hideous. I don't think she was capable of even looking at that, even much less making it," said Ravell.

So what would get Lobato, now in her 30's, out of prison? Proof of a different killer.

"There was a piece of gum found at the scene that had the victim's blood on it. I'll be the first to admit, he could've bled on a piece of gum or it could've come from the victim or it could've come from someone involved in the crime," said Kohn.

"If we can find the real killer, we can say this person's DNA is all over the place. That person, whoever murdered him, left evidence. There's evidence all over," said Ravell.

After a decade of courtroom motions, arguments, denials, reversals, and appeals, an offer from The Innocence Project to test DNA from the crime scene, along with a public petition demanding the use of DNA technology, Ravell's hope for freedom hasn't subsided.

"I love her," Ravell says, in her kitchen, where Lobato's picture fills a corner.

Lobato hasn't given up either, as she writes in a letter she sent me: "I just have to be patient because the evidence in my case speaks for itself. The science doesn't lie ."

As for prosecutors, Judge Kephart says the evidence revealed years ago in a Las Vegas courtroom can't be so easily dismissed either.

"I stand behind what we did. I have no qualms about what happened and what we prosecuted and I believe it was completely justice done."

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