Americans were rightly concerned when Amanda Knox was convicted in Italy in 2009 based upon questionable evidence and a bizarre and improbable theory of the crime. But the Italian system permits an appeal and a new court took a fresh look at the case in 2011, acquitting Amanda Knox and correcting the mistake made in 2009. The American "justice" system is often not as willing to correct its mistakes. If American protestations about human rights abuses in other countries are to be credible we have to begin addressing the manifest inadequacies in our own legal system. The Kirstin Lobato case would be an excellent place to start.
Kirstin "Blaise" Lobato was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sexual penetration of a dead body in 2006 based on a set of events which occurred in 2001. She has been in prison since the 2006 conviction and her case has attracted the support of numerous innocence organizations(including the Innocence Project, the Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted, the Justice Institute, Proving Innocence, and the Worldwide Women’s Criminal Justice Network) and a number of committed individuals. Reviewing the record in the case, it is still somewhat of a mystery as to how she could possibly have been even considered a suspect for this crime.
The evidence of guilt is entirely based upon her "confession" which was a My Cousin Vinny type description of an incident having nothing to do with the crime. In late May, 2001, Blaise Lobato was attacked in an attempted rape and defended herself by pulling out a knife and cutting the attacker’s penis. For the next several weeks, she repeated the story of this traumatic incident to numerous friends.
On July 8, a man she had never met was killed at a location several miles away from the rape incident in Las Vegas and his penis was cut off. The police heard third hand about Lobato’s story and questioned her, grossly misinterpreting her story as a confession of the July 8 crime. The two incidents were weeks apart, at completely different locations, and distinct in many other respects. Perhaps more importantly, numerous witnesses swear that Blaise told them in June about the May incident establishing that the story could not possibly refer to the July 8 crime.
There was really no other "evidence" of guilt – no evidence of any connection between Blaise and the victim, no evidence at all of her at the crime scene, no evidence that she had ever been at the location of the crime, no motive, no evidence on Blaise or her belongings of any connection to the crime.
And, more importantly, it is absolutely clear that Blaise was some 170 miles away from the crime scene at the time of the homicide. She lives in Panaca and even the prosecution conceded that she had overwhelming evidence she was there after 10 a.m. on July 8. The body was found on the night of July 8 and, although the prosecution tried to fudge the time of death, forensic scientists(the kind of people we all see in the CSI series) have come forward with conclusive proof that the crime had to be committed after sundown on July 8 at a time when there is no dispute that Blaise was 170 miles away. In short, it is much more likely that I committed this crime than that she did.
There is an abundance of other exculpatory evidence – she passed a lie detector test with flying colors administered by a professional who Las Vegas prosecutors trust, there is evidence of footprints at the crime site that she could not possibly have made, evidence at the crime site also points to other suspects who were never investigated by the police. This is not a case of mere procedural error or a dispute about the definition of "reasonable doubt" – this is a case of a clearly innocent young woman who should not be behind bars and should never even have been tried for this crime.
Cases like this tell us a lot about our society and ourselves. The fact that this can happen in America is deeply troubling. Blaise’s Habeas Corpus appeal is now pending in the Nevada Supreme Court and a petition is circulating urging the prosecutors to drop the case – readers can sign by going here.www.change.org/petitions/justice-for-kirstin-blaise-lobato As a retired lawyer, a case like this undermines my confidence in our legal system. On the other hand, in America, we always seem to have a few courageous individuals willing to stand up for justice. In this case, Michelle Ravell has been tireless advocate on Blaise’s behalf and Hans Sherrer has been an articulate and outspoken advocate as well. Her lawyer, Travis Barrick, has done a fantastic job of assembling the evidence which overwhelmingly demonstrates her innocence beyond a reasonable doubt. More information can be found at www.justice4kirstin.com and at www.justicedenied.org/kbl.htm.
I urge readers to sign the petition and spread the news about this terrible injustice. At this stage of the game, Blaise Lobato isn’t really on trial any more; we are.