Kirstin Blaise Lobato, an American who was wrongfully convicted in 2002 for murder, gained her freedom earlier this year thanks to a 2009 affidavit from SFU forensic entomologist Gail Anderson. The affidavit convinced the Innocence Project to help secure Lobato’s petition for a third retrial.
The Innocence Project works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted, usually using DNA evidence. In Lobato’s case, however, Anderson’s knowledge of how and when blowflies colonize a corpse with their eggs was key to proving the murder occurred at a time when Lobato had an unbreakable alibi.
Lobato was just 18 years old when she was accused of brutally stabbing and killing a homeless man on July 8, 2001. His mutilated body was found at around 10 p.m. under a thin layer of trash behind a dumpster on the Las Vegas strip. The medical examiner initially estimated the time of death an hour or two before the body was found. But he then shifted his opinion several times, eventually settling on up to 24 hours before the body was discovered.
Arrested despite alibi
No physical evidence connected Lobato to the murder, but Las Vegas detectives followed up on a third-hand rumour that she had similarly slashed an assailant when she was sexually assaulted in Las Vegas the month before. They arrested her, despite an alibi from several witnesses placing her at her parents’ home on July 8—an almost three-hour drive from the murder scene.
Time of death was key
The state’s case hinged on the medical examiner’s estimated time of death. The state claimed Lobato had enough time to commit the crime and then drive three hours to her parents’ home in time to clean up and be seen in the neighbourhood. She was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to 45 years to life in prison. She appealed.
A second trial
During a second trial in 2006, the medical examiner again changed his opinion, saying the victim died eight to 14 hours before discovery. Lobato was again found guilty and convicted of voluntary manslaughter and other charges. She was sentenced to 13 to 35 years in prison.
Importantly, at neither of her trials did the defence team question why the medical examiner changed his opinion. Nor did the team call on a forensic entomologist to clarify why there was no insect colonization on the body, which could help clarify time of death.