Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s News Source
Editor’s note: The People v. Flores murder trial is covered each day by Mustang News. Follow @CPMustangNews on Twitter and Instagram for more updates. Read previous articles about the trial here.
On Tuesday at 3:50 p.m., the prosecution for the Kristin Smart murder trial called their last witness and rested their case.
“The People have rested, subjected to rebuttal evidence,” Judge Jenifer O’Keefe announced.
Paul Flores is being charged with the murder of Kristin Smart, and his father, Ruben Flores, is being charged with accessory to murder. Smart went missing after an off-campus party in 1996.
Paul Flores’ attorney, Robert Sanger, told the court that the defense will begin their case Wednesday morning.
After the juries exited the courtroom, the defense attorneys representing Paul and Ruben Flores both motioned to dismiss the case against their clients, citing “insufficient evidence” in front of the judge.
“A hole in the ground under [Ruben Flores’] deck is not evidence,” Harold Mesick, Ruben Flores’ attorney, told the court.
Prosecutor Christopher Peuvrelle then gave the judge a brief summary of the evidence that the prosecution has presented in court over the past nine weeks, at one point referring to Paul Flores as a “pathological liar lying through his teeth.”
“The only logical conclusion is that both defendants are guilty,” Peuvrelle said, asking the court to dismiss the motions set forward by the defense.
In response, Paul Flores’ attorney, Robert Sanger, told the judge that “Mr. Peuvrelle’s imagination is quite active” and asked the judge to grant his motion.
Mesick also responded to Peuvrelle’s summary of the evidence.
“We don’t even know if Kristin Smart is dead, and I know that’s hurtful to hear and I’m sorry to say it,” Mesick said. “For all we know she’s out in Dubai or the Middle East.”
Mesick said there was an “innocent explanation” for all of the evidence that the prosecution has presented against Ruben Flores.
Judge O’Keefe said she would “respectfully deny” both motions to dismiss the case, adding that “we will continue with the defense case tomorrow starting at 8:30 a.m.”
Before the prosecution rested its case, Tuesday’s hearing included the defense motioning for a mistrial and testimonies from several major witnesses.
Earlier in the day, Peuvrelle called James Camp, an investigator with the San Luis Obispo District Attorney’s Office, to testify about a search warrant he performed on 710 White Ct., Ruben Flores’ home in Arroyo Grande.
Camp went to Ruben Flores’ property with Detective Clint Cole from the SLO Sheriff’s Department on May 21, 2021 to obtain a buccal swab, which, as he described, is a “glorified Q-tip used to obtain DNA samples from someone.”
“The contact was cooperative; he knew we were coming,” Camp said.
He added that when Ruben Flores saw that the warrant also authorized buccal swabs from his ex-wife, Susan Flores, and her boyfriend, Mike McConville, he made a statement to the detectives that Camp described as “questionable.”
Peuvrelle played a recording for the jury from the interaction, which the detectives recorded.
“They haven’t committed no felonies, only me,” Ruben Flores said in the recording, quickly correcting himself and adding “I mean — I mean — I’m the only one who’s been arrested.”
Mesick said that Ruben Flores was just “confused” and misspoke, telling Camp that he was 80 years old at the time of the interaction.
Camp agreed with Mesick when he said that his client was cooperative that afternoon and that his demeanor was “cool, calm and collected.”
Mesick asked Camp if he knew that this was the second time that Ruben Flores’ DNA had been swabbed, but Camp said he had no “personal knowledge” of that.
Content warning: This section contains mentions of rape.
Peuvrelle called three witnesses to the stand on Tuesday to establish context for the prosecution’s last piece of evidence: an explicit photo of a woman with a red ball gag in her mouth, which was taken as a screenshot from a video found on Paul Flores’ laptop.
Two survivors of sexual assault, assigned the names Rhonda Doe and Sarah Doe by the court, previously testified that Paul Flores raped them in 2008 and 2011, respectively. Both testimonies included mentions of a red ball gag that Paul Flores forcibly placed in their mouths as he raped them.
On Tuesday, Peuvrelle called Shelby Liddell, a forensic specialist working with the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Department, up to the stand.
Liddell testified that she took a photo of Paul Flores’ bedroom in his home in San Pedro in April 2021. Peuvrelle asked Liddell to circle the bedding in the photo, which he then showed the jury.
Peuvrelle then called Jason Nadal, a detective with the SLO Sheriff’s Department, up to the stand.
Nadal participated in a search of the home, and he testified that he found a Dell computer on Paul Flores’ desk in the bedroom, which he seized and placed into evidence.
Christopher Fitzpatrick, a computer forensics specialist with the SLO Sheriff’s Department, was the last witness to take the stand for the prosecution.
Fitzpatrick said that he was assigned to retrieve digital evidence from Paul Flores’ computer that Nadal seized, where he found the source of the screenshot that Peuvrelle put in front of the jury.
Before Peuvrelle put up the photo, Judge O’Keefe told the jury that they should only consider it as evidence that Paul Flores was (or was not) the owner of a red ball gag — nothing else.
The photo showed the face of a woman with a red ball gag in her mouth, and it featured the same bedding that Liddell had circled in the photo she took in Paul Flores’ bedroom.
Fitzpatrick said he also found Paul Flores’ tax returns and photos of his family on the computer.
At this point, the prosecution rested their case and both juries exited the courtroom.
Outside the presence of both juries, Sanger noted his objection to the photo shown to the jury and told the Court that it was “unduly prejudicial,” adding that it provided no evidence of a rape.
“Just because something is relevant doesn’t mean it should be admissible,” Sanger said.
Peuvrelle disagreed, and told the judge that the probative value of the photo “could not be higher” since it corroborates previous witness testimony.
O’Keefe said that the screenshot came from a video that the court found “shocking” and of “inflammatory nature,” which is why she decided not to let Peuvrelle play the video in front of the jury.
“The court endeavored to minimize the prejudicial effect as much as possible,” O’Keefe said, adding that she chose the “least inflammatory” photo to show to the jury from the ones that Peuvrelle submitted.
Peuvrelle noted that he also submitted screenshots from the video that showed Paul Flores’ face, which the court denied.
On Tuesday, Peuvrelle also called Camp to testify about a white Nissan pickup truck that belonged to Paul Flores, separate from his testimony about the search warrant on Ruben Flores’ home.
Peuvrelle put a photo of the truck in front of the jury.
Last week, a SLO local named Jenifer Hudson testified that, at a gathering in the summer of 1996, Paul Flores said he was “done playing with” Smart and that he buried her under his skate ramp in Huasna, a town in San Luis Obispo County.
About two weeks later, Hudson said she drove out to a skate ramp while following a white pickup truck in Huasna to drop off some friends, which she later said she realized was the same place that Paul Flores referred to in his statement from their first interaction.
Once she arrived, she saw Paul Flores getting out of the white pickup and Hudson said she left immediately after realizing that he was the same person who admitted to Smart’s murder a few weeks prior.
Hudson said that she did not know Paul Flores’ name until years after that interaction, and said that the truck was a four-wheel drive.
On Tuesday, the prosecution tried to establish that the truck that Jenifer Hudson saw that day was Paul Flores’ while the defense tried to establish that it wasn’t.
Sanger asked Camp if he knew whether Paul Flores’ truck was a four-wheel drive, which Camp did not.
Peuvrelle then called Detective Cole to the stand, who told him that he was “positive it’s a two-wheel drive.”
Cole told Sanger that he had no evidence that the truck was raised or modified since 1996, adding that he has no personal knowledge of it.
Peuvrelle asked Cole if he was present in court when Hudson stated that it “appeared to be a four-wheel drive.” Cole said he was.
“So there is evidence,” Peuvrelle said.
At this point, Sanger objected to Peuvrelle’s line of questioning.
“Mr. Peuvrelle knows better than that,” Sanger said. “I have a motion.”
“He opened the door, Your Honor,” Peuvrelle said.
Outside the presence of the jury, Sanger put forward a motion for a mistrial based on Peuvrelle’s “totally inappropriate” line of questioning.
“There is no evidence — and Mr. Peuvrelle knows it — that this or any other white pickup truck used by my client… is a four-wheel drive,” Sanger said, adding that Peuvrelle was trying to imply that Hudson saw the white Nissan truck.
Peuvrelle argued that there was no misconduct, calling his line of questioning “fair game” and explaining that Hudson testified that she saw “what appeared to be a four-wheel drive.”
“I am going to respectfully deny the motion for a mistrial,” O’Keefe said, suggesting that council move on from this line of questioning.
Tuesday was the third day of testimony from Angela Butler, a forensic DNA analyst who confirmed the presence of human blood in soil samples from the Flores’ property.
On Monday, Butler said that she also examined a canvas mattress pad as part of the investigation, which presumably belonged to Paul Flores when he lived in Room 128 of Santa Lucia Hall in 1996.
Butler examined it in 2019, where she sampled nine areas looking for DNA. A small brownish stain, labeled 11A, gave a weak positive result for the presumptive test for blood. None of the other eight areas gave any positive results.
Butler tested the mattress pad for DNA, and the results showed that “Kristin Smart and Paul Flores could neither be included nor excluded as contributors to the DNA results obtained from this sample.”
Butler echoed this statement again on Tuesday, explaining to Sanger that the likelihood ratio for these results was between .01 and two, meaning that the technology could not support the inclusion or exclusion of either DNA in the sample.
Butler agreed with Sanger when he said that “if it were one, then it could not have been the other,” meaning that either Paul Flores’ or Smart’s DNA could have been present in the sample (or neither of them), but not both.
During his cross examination, Mesick asked Butler if there had been any studies verifying the use of the HemDirect test, which Butler used to confirm the presence of blood in the soil samples, for use in soil.
The HemDirect test, as Butler explained, detects the hemoglobin present in human, primate and ferret blood.
“There have been no studies by the manufacturer specifically for the use [of the HemDirect test] in soil,” Butler said.
Upon more questioning from Mesick, Butler said she could not tell whose blood was on the sample or whether or not it was from a human being, adding that “nobody’s DNA is in that sample.”
She later told Peuvrelle that “it doesn’t negate your results” if there’s no validation studies for the use of the HemDirect test on a certain material.
She also explained that her analysis was double checked by other analysts in her lab including her supervisor, who “agreed” to the use of the HemDirect test.
“So, you could be wrong,” Sanger said during his cross examination, noting the lack of validation studies for the HemDirect test being used in soil.
“It could be,” Butler said.
Proceedings will resume on Wednesday morning, starting with the defense’s first witness.
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Prosecution in Kristin Smart murder trial rests case after contentious hearing, defense motions for mistrial – Mustang News