The People v. Flores murder trial continued Monday with the cross examinations of two people involved in the investigation of Kristin Smart’s 1996 disappearance.
Paul Flores, 45, is being charged with the murder of Kristin Smart. His father, 81-year-old Ruben Flores is charged with accessory to murder after the fact. The two were arrested in April 2021, and their trials began July 18.
First on the stand on Monday was investigator James “JT” Camp, who has already testified in court three times throughout the trial.
Prosecutor Christopher Peuvrelle showed Camp photos that he took in June of 2021 of the red brick residence halls and the intersection between Perimeter Road and Grand Avenue at Cal Poly.
Camp said Muir Hall is on an uphill slant from Grand Avenue, and that Mountain Lane passes through the back of the Santa Lucia Residence Hall — directly behind the window of Paul Flores’ room in 1996.
Based on the prosecution’s opening statement, the prosecution is presenting a theory that Paul Flores killed Smart in his dorm room and moved her body to his dad’s house.
Paul Flores told officers in 1996 that the last time he saw Smart was when they were walking up Perimeter Road and that she was heavily intoxicated, meaning she would have had to walk uphill back to her Muir dorm.
Cadaver dog ‘almost immediately’ alerted to Paul Flores’ dorm in 1996, dog handler testifies
Next on the stand was Adella Morris, a professional dog handler for human remains detection. Morris was called to Cal Poly in 1996 to assist with the Smart case.
That year, Morris was part of a private agency, the California Rescue Dog Association, or CARDA, which specialized in training dogs and their handlers to search for human remains.
Officers at Cal Poly asked Morris to have her dog search the Santa Lucia Residence Hall.
Morris and her dog, Cholla, began their search on the south west entrance of Santa Lucia, where Morris let Cholla inspect the area unleashed.
“She, like, ran down the hall and almost immediately she literally made a U-turn and started coming back and concentrating on some of the doors,” Morris said on Monday.
Cholla inspected two doors before alerting on Room 128, Paul Flores’ room.
Once officers let Morris and Cholla inside, Cholla continuously alerted to the left side of the room, specifically to Paul Flores’ mattress, indicating that she had found a scent of human remains.
Cholla’s alert consisted of jumping on Morris when she detected signs of human remains, which she did repeatedly.
On Monday, Morris described Cholla’s reaction to the left side of the room as a “repeated enthusiastic alert” and said that the dog had no interest in the right side of the room at all.
“I had no doubts that she gave her alert that she gives when she detects human remains, and it was a very strong alert — she was very clear,” Morris said.
Morris had a second dog with her, Cirque, who she also brought with her to Cal Poly to help with the search. After Cholla had alerted to the dorm, she let Cirque inspect the area blindly, as she had done with the first dog.
Without Morris giving Cirque any sort of clue as to what Cholla had just done, Cirque also alerted to the left side of Paul Flores’ dorm room.
Neither Cholla nor Cirque alerted to any other place in all three floors in Santa Lucia.
Morris said that other handlers were also present with their dogs and that they all alerted to Room 128.
Defense questions credibility of cadaver dog alerts
Paul Flores’ defense attorney, Robert Sanger, questioned Morris on the validity of the standards placed by CARDA on human remains detection certification.
During her first round of testimony with Peuvrelle, Morris stated that CARDA was a state-wide organization under the Office of Emergency Services (OES).
Sanger later told Morris that CARDA is not a government agency, and that it only issues certifications on behalf of the organization and not “the force of state law.”
Morris corrected him, saying that the standards for human remain detection dogs and handlers were in fact developed by the OES. Sanger said that, in 1996, CARDA was still using its own standards for certification.
In 1996, Morris was a part of a committee that worked with the OES to develop state standards. Sanger said those weren’t put into effect until after the searches at Cal Poly, but Morris didn’t remember what month they were put in place that year.
Sanger also brought up an article that Morris wrote in 1998 alongside other professionals about human remain detection dogs, which stated that dogs “should never be trained for any other type of scent work.”
As per the standards in 1996, Cholla and Cirque were both originally trained as live find dogs, meaning that they were able to detect live scents as well as human remains.
Morris maintained that she agreed with the statement from the article, but that the standards in 1996 stated that human remain detection dogs had to be live trained as well.
Sanger also pointed out that Morris sent an email to a coworker asking for feedback about the 1996 search before writing her report on it, which Sanger referred to as potential for “implicit bias” in the report.
Morris maintained that her report was objective and based only on facts, and added that her coworker had “no clue” as to any of her questions to him.
Sanger also told Morris that scientists do not agree or are not exactly sure of what it is that dogs are responding to that lets them identify it as human decomposition for dogs.
Morris agreed but said that the chemical compounds of what dogs are smelling that makes them alert to it as human remains is not her particular area of study.
On a separate occasion in 1997, Morris was called to bring her dogs to Susan Flores’ house in East Branch Street.
She said that the dogs showed interest in a corner of the yard next to the trash cans, but there was no alert.
The court ran out of time during Sanger’s cross examination. Morris will be back on the stand on Tuesday.