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Update 2017: The case was dismissed December 29, 2017

Update 2014: The Nevada Supreme Court has granted a motion to allow for a continuance for the oral arguments requested in Kirstin Lobato's case scheduled for September 9, 2014

Update 2011: Habeas Corpus petition filed on May 5, 2010

Kirstin Lobato

Defendants plead their cases on Internet

Kirstin Lobato

Supporters of a 20-year-old woman convicted of first-degree murder have taken their fight to prove her innocence to cyberspace, a phenomenon that is becoming more common in high-profile criminal cases.

Kirstin Lobato, a Panaca resident, was sentenced to 40 to 100 years in prison after jurors convicted her of first-degree murder in the July 2001 slaying and mutilation of Duran Bailey, a 44-year-old homeless man.

Prosecutors said the slaying came as Lobato was on a methamphetamine binge. Lobato's attorney argued she wasn't even in town when Bailey was killed.

As her case is on appeal her supporters have taken to the Internet, urging visitors to sign a petition saying they believe Kirstin Lobato's conviction should be overturned. The website also asks for donations to Lobato's legal defense fund.

"Public opinion carries a lot of weight and the Internet is such a great avenue to reach a lot of people," said Michelle Ravell, a friend of Lobato who helped create the site.

Ravell, an accountant who lives in Las Vegas, said she perused dozens of sites that were created in support of people who had been convicted of crimes.

"There are hundreds of sites out there, maybe thousands," she said.

The Lobato site is one of a few that have sprouted up in local high-profile cases. Franklyn Perry, who pleaded guilty to fraud in a multimillion-dollar case, used a website to plead his case to the public and take pot shots at the prosecutors.

Jessica Williams was convicted of having drugs in her system when she plowed the van she was driving into a group of teens who were cleaning Interstate 15. Her case was overturned on appeal and, as she waits for a new trial, her supporters have gone to the web to try to raise money for bail and for her defense.

Joel Lieberman, chairman of the criminal justice department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said he predicts more websites created by defendants or supporters of defendants will spring up in high-profile cases.

"It's a pretty new phenomenon," he said. "This creates a way of directly communicating with the defendant's team. It creates an interesting new form of publicity."

He noted pop icon Michael Jackson's recent creation of a website to communicate with his supporters and proclaim his innocence of child molestation charges filed against him.

Lieberman said most defendants find it refreshing to be able to control their message to the public. Until now, defendants traditionally relied on traditional media outlets or "simple sound-bites on the evening news," he said.

"It's a lot easier to control information going out over the Internet. It's relatively free and you can put whatever you want on the Internet. You don't have that filter."

The site supporting Kirstin Lobato, which contains details that Lobato's supporters claim prove she is innocent, has received more than 5,000 hits since its creation in August, Ravell said.

Ravell declined to say how much money had been raised through the Internet site, www.justice4kirstin.com.

Ravell said the Internet was an ideal way to help create a public outcry regarding Lobato's case.

Jessica Williams' friends and family members created a similar website in October called www.jessicawilliams.org [defunct]. Organizers of that site created the Jessica Williams Defense and Bail fund through which they hope to raise enough money to post Williams' $2.5 million bail.

Williams, 23, is awaiting a second trial on charges that she had drugs in her system when she plowed her van into a group of teenagers who were cleaning up along Interstate 15.

A judge overturned her initial conviction, saying the marijuana metabolite found in Williams' system was not included in state law regulating illegal drugs. Williams' supporters say she should be released from prison until the new trial.

Perry's website, which is no longer working, took shots at his attorney and the prosecution, and had messages for his investors, the people prosecutors say Perry defrauded. Perry used the website to proclaim his innocence and argue that he was taking care of his investors.

At the time a prosecutor called it "more shinola."

Lieberman said defendants' websites can also be dangerous, however, because they can allow a potential jury pool to access information on the case that could be inaccurate or biased.

Clark County District Attorney David Roger said he did not think websites created by defendants were harmful to the criminal justice process.

"Cases are decided in courtrooms, not on websites," he said.

Roger said the criminal justice system is designed so that any so-called pretrial media coverage that could be created by mediums such as the Internet would not taint a potential jury pool.

Jurors are generally exposed to many different sources of information before sitting on a jury panel, he said.

"All jurors commit to deciding cases based on only the facts presented in court," Roger said.

On Lobato's website, dozens of people nationwide have logged onto the site and left words of encouragement and support in Lobato's guest book.

Many of the visitors praised Kirstin Lobato's courage and said they hoped she would be exonerated. Visitors to the site are also urged to donate money to the Lobato campaign. The site says all donations will be used for Lobato's defense fund.

Lobato's site urges visitors to send letters of support to Lobato at the Southern Nevada Women's Correctional Facility in North Las Vegas. Visitors are also asked to submit poetry and art.

"It gives her hope that there are other people out there that see there is a problem with (her conviction)," Ravell said.

Prosecutors said Lobato was on a methamphetamine binge when she beat and stabbed Bailey to death after he demanded sex in exchange for drugs. They said Lobato mutilated the man after his death.

Kirstin Lobato was arrested after she allegedly told friends that she had mutilated the man after he raped her. Lobato later said Bailey did not attack her and she denied that she was even in Las Vegas when the slaying occurred.

Lobato was a friend of Ravell's 24-year-old son when Ravell met her about five months after the slaying. Ravell has since developed a friendship with Lobato and visits her at the prison about once a week.

Ravell said she still does not buy the state's theory that Kirstin Lobato could kill and mutilate Bailey without leaving any significant physical evidence. She is convinced that the young woman is innocent.

Ravell said she hopes the website will help educate the public about the realities of the criminal justice system. She also has a loftier goal in mind, she said.

"My dream, my vision is that (Lobato) will be exonerated," Ravell said. "I want to see her walk out of that prison a free woman."

Jessica Williams