By Hans Sherrer
Special to the Las Vegas Tribune
Fifteen years ago Gloria Navarro publicly declared that Kirstin Lobato is innocent of Duran Bailey’s homicide on July 8, 2001 in Las Vegas. At the time she was Lobato’s lawyer. However, in December 2009, President Barack Obama accepted Senator Harry Reid’s recommendation and nominated her to be a U.S. District Court judge. The United States Senate unanimously confirmed her by a vote of 98-0 in May 2010.
After Lobato’s May 2002 trial the Las Vegas Review-Journal published Navarro’s statement: “She placed her belief in the justice system, and she ended up being convicted of a crime that she did not commit.” She also said Lobato turned down a plea deal for three years in prison because she is innocent. Lobato was subsequently sentenced by District Court Judge Valorie Vega to a minimum of 40 years in prison.
Judge Navarro has never recanted her public declaration Kirstin Lobato is innocent. In fact, she specifically referenced the Review-Journal article on page 8 of the “U.S. Senate Committee On The Judiciary: Questionnaire For Judicial Nominees.” The U.S. Senate relied on her questionnaire in determining she was qualified for lifetime appointment as a U.S. District Court Judge, and in unanimously confirming her.
Judge Navarro’s statement of Lobato’s innocence was based on her intimate understanding of the facts of Lobato’s case. President Obama, Senator Reid, and a unanimous U.S. Senate determined Judge Navarro’s legal judgment is sound enough to entrust her with a lifetime federal judicial appointment.
Ms. Lobato’s 2002 convictions were overturned by the Nevada Supreme Court in 2004, and she was convicted after a retrial in 2006. However, the prosecution presented no evidence that wasn’t known to Navarro in 2002, and that evidence wasn’t enough for her to have even the slightest doubt of Lobato’s innocence.
Yet, 15 years later, Lobato remains imprisoned because one person stands in the way of her freedom: District Attorney Steve Wolfson.
Wolfson continues to defend her convictions even though Lobato’s 770-page habeas corpus petition filed in 2010 details her convictions weren’t due to evidence of her guilt — but her lawyer’s failure to adequately investigate her case and defend her.
Her lawyer failed to even point out to the jury the prosecution didn’t present any evidence she had ever met Bailey, that she had ever been to where he was killed, or that she was even in Las Vegas on the day of his homicide. It isn’t possible for anyone to kill a person they never met, at a place they had never been to, on a day when they were 165 miles from the crime scene. Judge Navarro evidently has the legal judgment to understand basic facts such as those that mean Lobato is innocent.
Wolfson’s opposition to Lobato’s habeas petition may provide Judge Navarro with the opportunity to tell the world that Lobato is innocent.
In November 2016 the Nevada Supreme Court remanded Lobato’s habeas case back to the Clark County District Court to resolve two issues: ineffective assistance by her trial lawyers and new evidence she is actually innocent. The Supreme Court ordered an evidentiary hearing.
A defense by the DA to Lobato’s petition is “there is no reasonable question of Defendant’s guilt.” Lobato’s response filed in the District Court was the DA’s defense[that] “has made Judge Navarro a material witness in the Petitioner’s writ of habeas corpus case, and she will be subpoenaed as a witness during the Petitioner’s evidentiary hearing.”
Consequently, Wolfson knows that if there is an evidentiary hearing he could be faced with needing to denigrate the testimony of federal Judge Navarro that Ms. Lobato is innocent, and that she knew it 15 years ago.
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Hans Sherrer is President of the Justice Institute aka Justice Denied that conducted a post-conviction investigation of Kirstin Lobato’s case. The Justice Institute is based in Seattle, Washington. Its website is, www.justicedenied.org.