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Forensic Entomology Helps Nevada Murder Convictee Get Exonerated After 17 Years in Prison

by Ed Lyon 

In June 2001, 18-year-old Kirstin Blaise Lobato narrowly escaped being raped in Las Vegas, Nevada. With her small pocket knife, she wounded her attacker’s genitals. He was left intact but did sustain enough of an injury to make him cry. 

On July 8, 2001, at 10:15 p.m., the corpse of a homeless man was found in an outside trash collection area behind the famous Las Vegas Strip. The man’s penis had been severed, his rectum cut open with several stab wounds, and slash marks were on his body. Blood pooled around and beneath him. Police began searching for anyone who had any past history of cutting a penis. It did not take long to locate, arrest, try, and convict young Lobato of the murder, despite a total lack of physical evidence linking her to the crime. 

Initially, the testifying pathologist set the time of death to just prior to the corpse’s 10:15 p.m. discovery. Young Lobato had an airtight alibi for that time though, so the pathologist changed his mind, deciding the time of death was between one to 12 hours before 10:15 p.m. By the time of Lobato’s trial, the pathologist had revised the time of death period to up to 24 hours prior to the corpse’s 10:15 p.m. discovery. 

Lobato’s conviction for first-degree murder and penetration of a dead body was reversed and re-tried in 2006. Yet another, different time of death was set by the pathologist, this one at eight to 14 hours prior to the 10:15 p.m. discovery of the corpse. She again was convicted, but of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter but with a higher sex registry offense of sexual penetration of a dead body. 

Three years later, Hans Sherrer became interested in Lobato’s case. He edits and publishes a magazine about wrongful conviction called Justice Denied. After a close examination of Lobato’s case and crime-scene photographs, Sherrer contacted forensic entomologist Gail Anderson. After Sherrer told Anderson what he had and strongly suspected, Anderson agreed to give the case some attention herself. 

Anderson immediately saw a complete absence of blowflies on the corpse. This is irrefutable evidence that the pathologist’s first time of death estimate, coincidentally the exact same time as her unshakeable alibi, was spot-on accurate. 

Blowflies are diurnal creatures, meaning that they rest at night and are active only during the day. Also, they are cold blooded, so they also are only active during summer months, like in July, when the murder occurred.

The victim died in mid-summer, which is the seasonally active period for blowflies. The abundance of blood at the crime scene would have been an immediate attractant for the insects to lay their eggs in so their offspring, or first-stage larva, could feed on liquid protein because they are not able to break through a human being’s protective skin covering. 

However, because it was after dark, nighttime, the insects were not active, so there were no blowflies or blowfly eggs on the corpse—proving the time of death was close to immediately prior to 10:15 p.m. that summer night and not at any of the various other earlier times the pathologist kept changing his mind about. Habeas corpus proceedings for Lobato began in 2010. It was not until the Innocence Project became involved in 2017 that her case gained real traction, and a hearing was granted. Anderson and two more forensic entomologists testified to the above facts, which proved the initial time of death set by the pathologist to be correct, so Lobato’s alibi excluded her from the crime. 

An entomologist for Nevada simply stated no one could be sure about the blowflies. 

Two months later, Lobato was granted relief and a new trial. The court held her trial lawyers were not effective because they failed to consult or call an entomologist to testify for Lobato. Ten days later, the trial court dismissed the case against Lobato with prejudice. 

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Source: phys.org

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