A former Cal Poly Police officer and a forensic serologist testified in court Wednesday during the preliminary hearing for Paul and Ruben Flores, who are charged in the disappearance of former student Kristin Smart in 1996.
Angela Butler, a forensic DNA examiner with the Serological Research Institute in Richmond, took the stand to provide testimony about soil samples allegedly containing blood that were taken from Ruben Flores’ Arroyo Grande home in the 700 block of White Court. She was followed by San Luis Obispo Police Lt. Robert Cudworth, who recalled his 1996 interview with Paul Flores while working as an officer for Cal Poly Police.
Additionally, James Camp, a District Attorney’s Office investigator, testified about Smart’s personal items that police seized from her dorm room days after she was reported missing on May 25, 1996.
Paul Flores was last seen with Smart near the intersection of Perimeter Road and Grande Avenue at about 2 a.m., only steps from their dorms, after walking back from an off-campus party on Crandall Way, according to Cheryl Manzer, an early witness in the hearing who testified walking with the two before splitting off.
An archeologist Tuesday testified about her findings at two excavated sites, including one which contained an “odd stain,” during searches for Kristin Smart's remains at the Arroyo Grande home of Ruben Flores in March and April.
After that, Smart was never seen again. Her body has not been found and she was declared legally dead in 2002.
Paul Flores, 44, of San Pedro is charged with Smart’s murder and his 80-year-old father, Ruben Flores, is charged with accessory to murder after the fact and is accused of burying her under the deck of his Arroyo Grande home.
Both men were arrested and charged in April following multiple search warrants on their properties, including one in March. They have pleaded not guilty.
Before testimony, however, Superior Court Judge Craig van Rooyen denied a subpoena filed by Bob Sanger, Paul Flores’ attorney, to question Orcutt podcaster Chris Lambert on the stand.
Sanger accused Lambert of influencing at least two witnesses who previously testified in the case and added that Lambert’s claim to California’s shield law, which protects journalists from being forced to testify about their sources, can’t supersede his client’s right to fair trial.
Lambert, who was represented by attorney Diana Palacios, produces the “Your Own Backyard” podcast, which has been downloaded millions of times and is credited for renewing public interest in the case.
If he’d allow Lambert to testify, it would create a “chilling effect” that could cause sources to not speak with journalists and any reporter “that has an interaction with a witness could be called to testify,” van Rooyen said.
After van Rooyen’s ruling, Butler testified about her findings from tests on soil samples taken from an alleged burial site located underneath the deck of the Arroyo Grande residence during searches executed by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office on March 15 and 16.
Two tests were performed, including an orthotolidine test, a presumptive test, and a Seratec HemDirect test, which is a confirmatory test that identifies hemoglobin in human blood, according to Butler.
She added the HemDirect test also showed positive results with blood “higher” primates, such as chimpanzees or gorillas, and from ferrets, which are related to weasels.
Harold Mesick, who represents Ruben Flores, asked Butler if the samples could also show blood from a weasel species native to San Luis Obispo County and Butler testified that it was possible.
On cross-examination from Sanger, Butler admitted she was not aware that national forensic standards precluded testimony on tests that presume a zero percent error rate.
“The FBI has made it clear that you can’t say that,” Sanger said. “The world is not certain.”
In addition, Butler testified that she was not able to extract DNA from the samples, although indicated that tests for mitochondrial DNA — which show a connection to the mother — are currently being analyzed by her lab.
Later, Cudworth took the stand and recalled interviewing Crystal Calvin, Smart’s roommate who reported her missing, and visiting their Muir Hall dorm room, where Smart’s belongings — including her identification, clothing and toiletries — were still on the bed.
He testified Detective Lawrence “Mike” Kennedy, his colleague at Cal Poly Police, collected some of Smart’s personal items from her room and turned them over to the Sheriff’s Office.
During Camp’s testimony, Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle displayed some of the items seized from Smart’s room, including a Stenner Glen ID with her picture and a credit card that expired in August 1996.
Cudworth remembered his interview with Paul Flores that occurred on May 28 1996, three days after Smart disappeared.
During the interview, which lasted approximately 15 minutes and took place at the campus store, Cudworth said Flores told him he left an intoxicated Smart to walk back to her Muir Hall dorm by herself while he walked next door to his Santa Lucia Hall dorm room.
Upon cross-examination from Sanger, Cudworth said he did not notice Paul Flores with a black eye or scrapes on his knees during the interview.
The preliminary hearing continues at 9 a.m. on Thursday in Superior Court.