Thursday’s proceedings resumed with testimony from the defense’s second witness: Elizabeth Johnson, a forensic DNA consultant working through a private practice.
During Johnson’s direct examination, Paul Flores’ attorney, Robert Sanger, referred specifically to soil samples taken from the soil under Ruben Flores’ deck, which have been important pieces of evidence for prosecution.
The jury heard about these samples on Monday when Angela Butler, a senior forensic DNA analyst and Laboratory Supervisor at Seri Lab assigned to the Kristin Smart case, testified that the samples tested positive for the presence of human blood using a HemDirect test.
The HemDirect test, as Butler explained, detects the hemoglobin present in human blood.
On Thursday, Johnson echoed a statement that she made on Wednesday during the first half of her testimony.
“My opinion is that this test as applied here cannot be considered reliable because it is not properly validated for use on this type of sample,” Johnson said, citing that there had been no validation studies done for the HemDirect test specifically in soil samples.
Johnson questioned the validity of the test in this case, knowing the human blood has been exposed for so long, it cannot be expected to react positively.
“You would expect the human hemoglobin to be degraded after this much time,” Johnson said.
During his cross examination, prosecutor Christopher Peuvrelle established that Johnson had never used the HemDirect test at an accredited lab throughout her career and has not worked full-time at a lab since 2003.
“That was before the iPhone was invented,” Peuvrelle said, leading to an objection from Sanger that Judge Jennifer O’Keefe sustained.
He also mentioned a validation study done on the HemDirect test for use on certain materials — not on soil — where trace amounts of fluid still tested positive for small trace amounts of blood in them.
“But this was not on aged samples,” Johnson said.
On Wednesday, Johnson said she emailed Dr. Christian Stadler from SERATEC, the distributors of the HemDirect test, who told her that he did not have data to answer the question of whether the test would work on bloodstains exposed to soil for more than 20 years.
Peuvrelle asked her about this on Thursday, noting a point in the email where Dr. Stadler said that maybe the hemoglobin in the sample may survive 20 years if it were “in a dry desert on a shady place.”
On Monday, Butler also testified about a canvas mattress pad, which presumably belonged to Paul Flores when he lived in room 128 of Santa Lucia Hall in 1996.
Butler said she 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 also tested it for DNA.
“The results show that Kristin Smart and Paul Flores could neither be included nor excluded as contributors to the DNA results obtained from this sample.” Butler said.
On Thursday, Johnson confirmed that the results of the DNA test were “uninformative.”
She also said that the stain labeled 11A was within another section, 11B, and added that almost every genetic marker that is found in 11A is also found in 11B.
11B did not test positive for blood and excluded Kristin Smart and Paul Flores from the DNA pool.
“You cannot attribute the genetic information coming from 11A as coming from the stain… it could be [coming from] the background,” Johnson said. “This particular sample, 11A, has the least amount of data of all the samples tested on the canvas.”
She said that, in her scientific opinion, there was no “meaningful” conclusion that could be drawn from the sample.
During his cross examination, Peuvrelle listed off a number of lectures that Johnson has given from 1997 to 2018, which he read off from her resume.
Notably, all of Johnson’s lectures were to associations such as the Texas Criminal Defense Association and the California Habeas Corpus Resource Center — all of which are geared towards defense attorneys and public defenders, although Johnson said that some prosecutors and judges had also attended a number of those lectures.
Peuvrelle also told Johnson that she’s never attended any national District Attorney Association conferences, which Johnson said she “wasn’t invited” to.
Peuvrelle also said that Johnson has only testified one time for the prosecution in a case since 2003.
He also asked her how much she was getting paid to testify for the defense, which Johnson said was $2,000 per day of testimony.
“So four thousand just for testimony,” Peuvrelle said.
Johnson said she also charges $250 a day for research, which she said totaled around $4,000 to $5,000 in this case.
Ex-boyfriend of SLO local who says she heard Paul Flores admit to murder testifies
On Sept. 8, Jennifer Hudson, a San Luis Obispo local, testified that she heard Paul Flores admit to burying Smart in 1996.
She said that Paul Flores made the statement at a house where people would often go skating, where he admitted to the murder outside the presence of anybody except herself and a man nicknamed “Red.”
Hudson said her boyfriend at the time, Brent Moon, was a skater, and he confirmed during his Thursday testimony that he and Hudson would “frequent” this place in 1996.
“Did Jennifer Hudson ever tell you anything about hearing somebody confess to the murder of Kristin Smart… or anything of that sort?” Sanger asked.
“No,” Moon said.
This was consistent with Hudson’s testimony that she only ever told one person about what she overheard: Justin Goodwin, a former roommate, whom she told in 2002.
During his cross examination, Peuvrelle asked Moon if Hudson stopped going with him when he went skating after that day.
“There was a point in 1996 when she didn’t go anymore,” Moon said. He added that this surprised him since she “always” used to go before that.
Peuvrelle asked Moon if this may have been “indicative of something happening.” Sanger objected to this question, and O’Keefe sustained it.
Court proceedings were scheduled to resume Monday morning.