On day 7 of the preliminary hearing for Paul and Ruben Flores, the two men charged in connection with the disappearance of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart, a cadaver dog handler testified about her search of Paul’s dorm room back in 1996 and Paul’s attorney officially sought to have the prosecutor removed.
Attorney Robert Sanger filed a motion Wednesday morning to disqualify the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office from prosecuting the case.
Sanger claims the prosecution is biased because Deputy District Attorney Chris Peuvrelle has worn purple ties several times during the preliminary hearing.
The issue of the purple ties initially came up on Tuesday, when Sanger asked San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Detective Clint Cole on cross-examination why he and Peuvrelle had been wearing purple ties to court. Cole said he’d seen a Facebook post mentioning that purple was Kristin Smart’s favorite color.
In his motion, Sanger references several news reports that include images of what Peuvrelle has worn during the hearing.
He adds that the DA’s investigator and Victim/Witness Coordinator for the DA’s office have also been observed wearing purple throughout the hearing.
“This conduct not only has the appearance of impropriety but is in fact improper,” Sanger says in his motion. “The wearing of purple attire, from the lead prosecutor to the DA’s investigator to the witness coordinator is a blatant representation of a ‘party’ and a community movement to convict Paul Flores.”
He argues that Flores would be unlikely to receive a fair trial because of the “San Luis Obispo District Attorney’s Office’s handling of the case.”
A temporary motion hearing is scheduled for August 25. A representative from the State Attorney General’s Office will need to be in attendance since the AG’s Office would be handed the case if the motion is granted.
In agreeing to the hearing date, Peuvrelle pointed out that he was wearing a blue suit and tie Wednesday and that the tie he was wearing on Tuesday was actually red and navy.
In the meantime, the preliminary hearing continues with cadaver dog handler Adela Morris called to the stand.
Adela Morris is an expert witness in human detection dog handling. However, the defense argues there’s not enough foundation for her to testify and questions her qualifications.
Under cross-examination, Sanger asks Morris several clarifying questions about her certification. Morris says she has a certificate from CARDA (California Rescue Dog Association).
He also asks about her income. Morris says she founded two nonprofits – the Institute for Canine Forensics and the Canine Specialized Search Team (CSST). She gets paid work through the Institute for Canine Forensics but CSST is all volunteer work.
Morris has spent 35 years as a cadaver dog handler and her dog, Cholla, aided in the search of Paul’s dorm and other areas in 1996 following Smart’s disappearance. She said Cholla was first certified in 1995 and she had to show proficiency before certifying her dog.
Morris testified that Cholla alerted to a piece of plastic in a dumpster and showed interest around the Performing Arts Center and at the Arroyo Grande home of Paul’s mother, Susan Flores.
Both defense attorneys ask if cleaning agents could hinder a dog’s detection of human remains, but Morris says dogs can still pick up scent signatures and adds she didn’t know Paul Flores’s dorm room had been cleaned when she searched it.
At one point during the hearing, Judge Craig van Rooyen asks Morris if she thinks Cholla was reliable for detecting human remains. She responds, “At the time, [Cholla] was one of the most trained dogs in the state.”
Morris says the dogs have to be re-certified every year.
On cross-examination, she is unsure of Cholla’s false-positive rate saying they didn’t track it at the time. “I’m aware dogs can make mistakes,” she said. “I’m assuming [Cholla] may have had some mistakes.”
Sanger argues Morris doesn’t have proper qualifications, was unsure of Cholla’s false-positive rate, and wasn’t able to testify about alerts leading to potential evidence; however, the judge ruled that her testimony would be allowed and testimony turned to the search of Paul’s dorm room.
Morris says that her dog alerted right away to a door on the left side of Santa Lucia Hall, room #128. She says Cholla gave “the strongest alert she’s ever seen her do.”
Morris says both of her dogs, Cholla and Cirque, “strongly alerted” to the left side of the room, specifically the mattress and desk.
The defense challenged the testimony about the second dog, Cirque, but the judge allows Morris to continue after discussion about Cirque’s background and training. Morris says Cirque was used as a “second opinion dog” and said, “I found Cirque to be reliable for his level of training.”
After searching each floor and open room in the dorm, Morris testified she returned with Cholla to Paul’s room and again the dog alerted to the bed frame after detectives removed the mattress.
On cross-examination, there is a lengthy discussion about scent signatures and how long they last if human remains are not present. Morris says she doesn’t know but adds cadaver dogs are trained to find the strongest scent location.
Sanger also questioned Morris about why she wrote a letter about the alerts to a colleague before writing her report. Morris says she was looking for advice. She says she didn’t speak with the other dog handlers at the search to ensure a “blind search.” Morris says “it’s more powerful when you have multiple dogs alerting when the teams don’t know the results.”
Ruben’s attorney, Harold Mesick asks if Morris knew what the search for was. Morris says she knew it was in connection to Kristin Smart’s disappearance, but she didn’t know whose dorm room she was searching.
With 15 minutes left in the day, the prosecution called Timothy Davis to the stand. He was one of the last people to see Kristin Smart alive after walking with her, Paul Flores, and Cheryl Anderson from the Crandall Way party on the night of Kristin’s disappearance.
The prosecution entered nearly 40 photos of 135 Crandall Way and asks Davis to identify them.
His direct examination will continue on Thursday.
ORIGINAL STORY – A longtime cadaver dog handler is expected to continue testimony Wednesday morning when the preliminary hearing for Paul and Ruben Flores continues in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court.
Paul and his father, Ruben Flores, face charges in connection with Kristin Smart’s 1996 disappearance from Cal Poly.
A preliminary hearing allows the court to examine evidence and determine if there is enough evidence for a trial.
Tuesday, two former friends of Paul’s took the stand and the defense raised issue with the purple ties that certain people were wearing in the courtroom.
Adela Morris, who has spent 35 years as a cadaver dog handler and whose dog aided in the search of Paul’s dorm and other areas in 1996 following Smart’s disappearance, also began testifying.
The preliminary hearing is expected to last through the end of the month.
KSBY’s Megan Healy is in the courtroom and will have updates on KSBY and KSBY.com as they become available.