- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 3, 2018

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A Nevada woman who was twice convicted of a 2001 killing and sexual mutilation that she insisted happened when she was more than 150 miles away was freed Wednesday from a Las Vegas jail - five days after her exoneration and release from prison.

Kirstin Blaise Lobato was 18 when she was first arrested and is 35 now. She was released from the Clark County Detention Center hours after a judge credited her with time already served and waived a one-year misdemeanor sentence in a prisoner sexual contact case.

“I feel overwhelmed. I feel excited. I feel grateful,” Lobato said after hugging a longtime supporter and friend, Michelle Ravell, and greeting several attorneys who worked on her case.

“I’m just so happy and I’m ready to go,” Lobato said, heading to Ravell’s car outside the jail.

Ravell called Lobato’s release “a dream come true and the end of a very long fight, all in one.”

Joye Taylor, a former inmate who befriended Lobato in prison and greeted her upon her release, said she expected the woman who goes by the name Blaise will appreciate doing “stuff we take for granted.”

“She hasn’t been able to do whatever she wants for all these years,” Taylor said.

Ravell helped Lobato’s case gain a large Facebook following and online backing that caught the attention of the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal advocacy organization.

It enlisted experts whose testimony about the absence of blowfly larvae on the slain man’s body when it was found near a trash bin in summer heat narrowed his time of death to a period when witnesses said Lobato was in her hometown of Panaca.

“We are extremely grateful this day has come,” said Vanessa Potkin, an Innocence Project lawyer who said Lobato is the 200th person to win exoneration with the New York-based organization.

Lobato was 19 when she was convicted in 2002 of murdering Duran Bailey. His badly beaten body was found in July 2001 near a Las Vegas trash bin with a slashed neck, cracked skull and missing genitals.

No physical evidence or witnesses connected Lobato to the killing, and she maintained she never met Bailey. But jurors were told that Lobato confessed in jail that she killed a man during a three-day methamphetamine binge after he tried to rape her.

Ravell pointed Wednesday to Bailey’s severe injuries and Lobato’s relatively small size as a teenager, and said she felt Las Vegas police focused quickly on Lobato while ignoring the possibility that Bailey was killed in retaliation for sexually attacking another woman.

The Nevada Supreme Court in 2004 threw out the 2002 verdict and Lobato’s prison sentence because her lawyers weren’t able to cross-examine the prosecution witness who said Lobato made the jailhouse confession.

Lobato was tried again in 2006, convicted of manslaughter, mutilation and weapon charges, and sentenced to 13 to 45 years in prison - a sentence that would have made her eligible for parole in August.

The Innocence Project and attorneys David Chesnoff and Richard Schonfeld in Las Vegas took up Lobato’s case after the state Supreme Court in late 2016 ordered the evidence hearing that lasted a week in October.

The state high court faulted Lobato’s trial lawyers for failing to hire an expert witness such as the insect expert to pinpoint Bailey’s time of death. Justices also cited what they termed “strong alibi evidence” from people who testified they saw Lobato in Panaca about the same time Bailey was killed.

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