I-Team: New hope for woman convicted of mutilation crime

LAS VEGAS - A Nevada woman who has spent the past 15 years in prison for a mutilation murder could learn Wednesday whether prosecutors are willing to offer a plea deal that could lead to her release from prison.

Kirstin Blaise Lobato's conviction for the 2001 killing has drawn international attention over the years, in part because of perceived flaws in her trial.  However, exclusive new information obtained by the I-Team suggests that prosecutors might be interested in negotiating a plea deal.

Lobato's supporters have whispered for several months that something big was cooking in her case, hinting that the D.A.'s office had reviewed the conviction concluded that Lobato did not commit the grisly crime that put her behind bars. The DA's office says a review of the case is underway, but no conclusion has been reached.

The I-Team learned about a proposed plea deal that could have led to Lobato's release if she admitted that committed the crime.

The evidence that sent Lobato to prison for 45 years has always been sparse. There is no physical evidence, or eyewitness to link her to the crime scene or the victim.  But, Lobato was convicted twice of murdering then sexually mutilating Duran Bailey, a homeless man whose body was found near a dumpster in 2001. 

The most persuasive evidence against the teen in her two trials was her own admission to police.  She told investigators that during the same general time period while in Las Vegas in a drug-induced haze, she had used a knife to fend off an attempted sexual assault.

Last November, for the second time, the Nevada Supreme Court reversed Lobato's conviction.  The Nevada Supreme Court ruled that the lower court should review the evidence that might prove Lobato's innocence.

Lobato's lawyers believe they can now establish a more precise time of death for Bailey, and prove that Lobato was hundreds of miles away at the time of the murder.  The results of Lobato's polygraph tests also weren't recognized during her trial.

The test results were recently made public by the I-Team. The examiner says there is no way Lobato committed the crime.

"They said if you pass this polygraph, we'll let you go," said Michelle Ravell, Lobato's friend, and supporter.  "She passed the polygraph, but they didn't let her go.

Ravell alleges that police and prosecutors have known since the beginning of the case that Lobato might be innocent. Before her first trial, Lobato was offered a deal to serve three years maximum if she would plead guilty to the crime, but Lobato refused.

On Dec. 9, 2016, another plea deal was offered to Lobato in the form of a letter.  Lobato's attorney at the time, Phung Jefferson, presented the offer that would have given her credit for time served.   The letter also dangled the possibility that if Lobato agreed to let the conviction stand,  she could be home for the holidays.

Ravell: "It was sign this, and you can be out by Christmas."
George Knapp, Chief I-Team Reporter: "Basically, admit you did it."
Ravell: "Yes, admit you did it."
Knapp: "Must be tempting, after all this time.
Ravell: "Yeah.  Don't you think she wanted to be home for Christmas?"

However, Lobato, who was 19 when she went to prison and is now in her 30's, didn't agree to the deal.  She signed the letter acknowledging she had read it but rejected the offer because she says she's innocent.

When the D.A.'s office was asked about the plea offer earlier this year, Assistant D.A. Chris Lalli told the I-Team thst no formal offer had been made by anyone in his office.  He said the case is still under review.

So where did Phung Jefferson, who is not a criminal attorney, come up with such an idea?  Did she make it up without authorization from the D.A.?

Lobato's new attorneys will be in court this week for a status check in her case, but it is not clear whether the plea offer will be mentioned. 

"She's spent 15 years in prison for something she didn't do," Ravell said.

Jefferson no longer represents Lobato, but she told the I-Team that the plea deal was conveyed to her by someone in the D.A.'s office.

Senior officials in the D.A.'s office reiterated to the I Team that no formal plea deal has been offered to Lobato.  However, it wouldn't be unusual if an informal offer were to be floated to find out if a defendant might be willing to enter formal negotiations.

Prosecutors typically would want to consult the family of the victim as well as police detectives before a formal offer would be made.

A status hearing for Lobato's case is set for Wednesday morning.


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