The court is dark until Wednesday, August 24
SAN LUIS OBISPO — Witnesses testifying in the Kristin Smart murder trial have gone from a steady streak of former Cal Poly students to now dog handlers who were involved early in the case’s investigation.
After trial testimonies wrapped up on Tuesday, Aug. 16, Judge Jennifer O’Keefe announced court would be dark until next Wednesday, Aug. 24.
Paul Flores is on trial for Kristin’s murder. The 19-year-old Cal Poly student went missing following the Crandall Way party over Memorial Day weekend in May 1996.
While Kristin’s remains have not been found, she was legally declared dead in 2002. Paul’s father, Ruben Flores, is accused of helping him cover up the crime.
Much of week five, which started on Monday, in the trial revolved around questioning dog handlers who searched a portion of the Cal Poly campus and a dorm building for human remains early in the investigation.
Adela Morris was one of the first handlers to bring her dogs in to search for Kristin Smart in June 1996. She has more than 30 years of experience training dogs to detect the smell of human remains.
Morris and her dog Cholla searched the first floor of the Santa Lucia dorm building. They conducted a blind search, meaning the handler was not told what she was specifically looking for or where.
She testified she let Cholla off leash, and the dog proceeded to alert to Paul’s dorm room door. Once inside, Cholla alerted multiple times to a mattress in the room.
Morris searched with a second dog which she says alerted to the same area in the same room.
On Tuesday, Morris again took the stand to continue her testimony. Jurors submitted questions for Morris to be asked throughout her testimony.
One of the jurors asked how long the scent of a cadaver stays detectable to dogs. Ultimately, Morris said she couldn’t answer the question accurately.
Morris continued testimony with questioning from all three attorneys. She answered questions pertaining to what the dogs are able to detect or where the scents come from and how long they may linger and how handlers interpret their dogs’ signals.
Ruben Flores’ attorney, Harold Mesick, asked Morris how many cadavers her team had actually found to which she said the team itself had located only one body but helped narrow down a search area in others.
Following Morris was a second dog handler who also searched the dorms and Cal Poly campus for Kristin Smart in June 1996.
Wayne Behrens searched the area with his dog Sierra.
San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle questioned Behrens about his certification process. Behrens said the Office of Emergency Services sets the standards and an organization called CARDA (California Rescue Dog Association) certifies the dogs.
Behrens testified that he and Sierra conducted a blind search near the Santa Lucia dorm. He testified that Sierra began alerting when she was near the dorm building and then alerted on the door outside of Paul’s dorm room.
According to Behrens, Sierra alerted to the same bed as Morris’s dog, but at the time they were not aware of the other dog’s searches of the dorm.
Under cross-examination with Paul Flores’ attorney, Robert Sanger, Behrens said Sierra was certified on June 7, 1996, and the search was conducted on June 29 that same year, but she had been certified in wilderness search since 1994 and had search experience before being certified as a cadaver dog.
Since the two handlers drove to the site together, Sanger wanted to know how much of the case they discussed together prior to writing the report.
Behrens said he was sure they discussed what they did as they traveled in the same car. Sanger asked Behrens if he found any human remains in the room and Behrens said no, confirming that Sierra just alerted to the mattress.
The trial was moved to Salinas after San Luis Obispo County Judge Craig van Rooyen ruled the father and son would not receive a fair trial in SLO County. While Paul and Ruben are being tried together, they will have separate juries.
The trial is expected to last into October.
Paso Robles Press will be following this story and update as new information becomes available.
Feature Photo: Dog handler Wayne Behrens testifies on Tuesday, Aug. 16, about a 1996 search he did at the Cal Poly dorms with his dog, Sierra. Pool Photo by NBC Dateline