Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Convicted on rumor and shoddy police work

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Jordan Smith reports in The Intercept:

It was roughly 10 p.m. in Las Vegas, on July 8, 2001, when a man rummaging through the garbage behind a bank just west of the Strip found the body.

Tossed behind a dumpster and covered in trash was a dead black man. Though he had no ID on him, police would soon learn that he was known on the streets as “St. Louis,” and, eventually, they would identify him as 44-year-old Duran Bailey, who had recently become homeless. He had been brutalized. Bailey’s skull was cracked, and his blood-caked eyes were swollen shut. Six teeth had been knocked from his mouth and were found scattered nearby. He had been stabbed repeatedly; the scene was soaked in blood. Most disturbingly, his penis had been cut off. It was found several feet from the body.

However gruesome, the murder scene was also rich with potential evidence: There were Bailey’s pants — likely pulled down by his killer, or killers. There was a piece of clear plastic that had been wrapped around his groin. Among the trash on or near the body was a clump of chewing gum, a condom wrapper, as well as several cigarette butts. There was at least one distinct set of bloody footprints inside the trash enclosure and leading away, toward the parking lot; beyond that, tire tracks, apparently freshly laid, running over a parking divider and disappearing toward the street.

There was also at least one video camera, at the ATM in front of the bank, as well as dozens of potential witnesses living in two large apartment complexes just north of the crime scene.

Nevertheless, the detectives assigned to the case were flummoxed. The lead investigator, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Detective Thomas Thowsen and his partner, James LaRochelle, arrived at the crime scene around 1 a.m. and left five hours later, as it was still being processed. They went back to the station, “put our heads together” and tried to figure out “what we had before us,” Thowsen would later testify.

They attended the autopsy later that day, where the medical examiner detailed Bailey’s extensive injuries: In addition to the head trauma and post-mortem amputation, Bailey’s carotid artery had been cut, and his anus had been slashed. Swabs taken from his penis and rectum would later be found to contain semen. No time of death was established.

Thowsen and LaRochelle visited the Nevada State Bank where Bailey had been found and learned that someone fitting his description was a customer there. They spoke to a security officer who said he had not seen any homeless people in the vicinity. They also spoke to at least one resident of the area — a woman who lived just to the north of the bank, in the Grandview Apartments, who approached the crime scene shortly after the detectives had left, asking what was going on.

But their official investigation then stalled. For the next 11 days, Thowsen and LaRochelle developed no leads in the case. The detectives could have pulled security footage from the bank or canvassed the neighborhood. They could have contacted Bailey’s known associates in order to retrace his final days. According to the official police report, they did none of those things. The murder of a homeless man, no matter how brutal, apparently was not a priority to detectives with a heavy caseload. The case seemed destined to go cold.

But then, on July 20, the police received a phone call from a woman in Pioche, a historic mining town three hours northeast of the city. Her name was Laura Johnson, and she asked whether the police department had, by any chance, found a man missing a penis. Johnson, who worked as a juvenile probation officer in Lincoln County, had heard something through the grapevine: A teacher friend, Dixie, had mentioned that her former student Kirstin had told Dixie that she cut off a man’s penis down in Vegas.

Thowsen and LaRochelle wasted no time. They hopped in a department SUV and hightailed it north along a two-lane highway into the desert mountains, toward Johnson’s home. There, she related the full exchange with Dixie. It was short on details, yet, according to the police report, she convinced the cops that they probably should not speak to Dixie directly. What if she warned Kirstin that police were asking questions? Thowsen and LaRochelle agreed, and apparently accepted at face value Johnson’s vague third-hand account. They left her home, and less than three hours after arriving in Lincoln County, arrested Kirstin Blaise Lobato.

A bleach-blond, lanky 18-year-old who at the time of the murder weighed close to 100 pounds, Lobato made an odd suspect for such a brutal crime. She had just graduated high school, and although she admitted that she had recently spent time in Vegas, she had an alibi for her whereabouts at the time of the murder. Importantly, she had no clear motive for killing Bailey, a stranger, especially in such a violent way. Nor was there any way Lobato could be the source of the semen collected from Bailey’s rectum. In fact, when the results of forensic analysis came back from the crime lab, there was not a shred of physical evidence linking Lobato to the scene.Yet, solely on the basis of a rumor, the state of Nevada would aggressively pursue a murder conviction of Lobato — and ultimately succeed. Today, following two trials, Lobato is imprisoned at the Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center in Las Vegas. Now 32, she has a number of staunch supporters — including local activists and a retired FBI agent — who insist that she is innocent, the victim of shoddy police work, an overzealous prosecution, a poor defense and a biased judge. . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing. When being innocent is no protection, then everyone is at risk.

And innocence is indeed no protection. Read this Slate article by Lara Bazelon. From that article:

If you are a wrongfully convicted man or woman in this country, it is extremely difficult—if not outright impossible—to win your case by advancing the simple argument that you are innocent. Sounds crazy, right? But it’s true. The Supreme Court has repeatedly declined to hold that the federal Constitution allows for so-called freestanding claims of innocence, that is, the right to be let out of prison simply because you didn’t do it, without any other “technical” violation to back up your argument. In the United States, the inmate who raises a compelling case of innocence after a constitutionally proper trial may well be doomed.

So even if it’s proven that Kirstin Lobato is innocent, that won’t by itself get her out of prison. It’s also necessary (and can even be sufficient) that there be some technical violation (e.g., exculpatory evidence concealed from the defense attorney(s)). The second article is quite interesting—and, in view of how poorly police and prosecutors often do their jobs, rather scary.

Written by Leisureguy

12 March 2015 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

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