Following an eventful day in court Tuesday afternoon where multiple witnesses were called back to the stand and the defense requested a mistrial, the prosecution rested their case against Paul and Ruben Flores in connection with the murder of Kristin Smart.
Opening statements in the case began on July 18 in Salinas.
On Monday, forensic analyst Angela Butler testified about soil samples she received from San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Detective Clint Cole last year that were reportedly collected from underneath the deck of Ruben Flores’ Arroyo Grande home.
Butler says the presence of human blood was found on 13 of the samples she tested, but added that no DNA was able to be extracted and some samples did return with a negative result for human blood.
She also detailed samples taken from a canvas mattress pad she says she received in November of 2019.
Butler says she was able to determine that a small brownish stain on the mattress pad was a DNA mixture.
On Tuesday morning, court began with an awkward back-and-forth between Paul’s defense attorney, Robert Sanger, and Butler over her knowledge of detecting the pH levels of liquids.
Sanger asked her if she knew the basis of how pH levels are calculated. Butler responded by saying the number of hydrogen ions in a collected sample determines its pH value.
During her testimony, Butler explained that collected samples are handled by the software G-Mapper, which uses algorithms based on uncertainty to determine whether the DNA of individuals in her findings are to be included or excluded.
Sanger then displayed an allele table of her collected data to the courtroom where he questioned Butler on why there were samples that showed more allele findings than others.
He asked Butler if she had swabbed the mattress in a deliberate effort to avoid obtaining DNA findings from certain areas and not others.
Butler denied the allegation, saying that during her search of a specific stain that was found on the mattress, she wanted to isolate her findings to the one stain spot in particular and that she wasn’t interested in examining any additional “touch DNA.”
Sanger then asked Butler to confirm that the DNA from both Paul and Kristin could neither be eliminated nor included in the sample findings on that mattress stain and that their DNA had been excluded from the other items she examined. Butler confirmed those findings to the court.
Butler’s testimony continued into the afternoon, with Sanger asking her about the soil samples she analyzed from Ruben’s home on White Court.
Sanger asked if Butler had ever analyzed soil or residual of burial sites before. Butler replied that she had not.
She also testified that she had not been present for the collection of soil from Ruben’s home, but that she had been present for prior, unrelated cases that she analyzed soil from.
Sanger asked if the soil samples she analyzed contained any pieces of bone or cloth. Butler said no while adding that her report found “possible hair samples” that she sent to another lab for analysis.
Butler told the court that hair was not detected in the sample.
When Ruben’s attorney, Harold Mesick, began cross-examining Butler, he asked what tools had been used to analyze the soil samples.
She said she had used a stereo microscope and tweezers.
In her testimony, Butler mentioned that DNA could not be identified in her analysis, prompting Mesick to ask whether she could confirm that her blood findings belonged to Ruben. Butler said she could not.
At the end of Mesick’s cross-examination, he inferred that Butler could not draw conclusions from her findings.
Peuvrelle then took over, asking Butler if she had ever worked with Elizabeth Johnson. Butler replied that she had worked on a few defense cases with her.
At the end of Butler’s testimony, Sanger asked the forensic analyst about the publicity of the Kristin Smart case at the time she performed her analysis of the soil samples.
Butler replied saying that there had been discussions about the case in her lab during her analysis.
The next person called to the stand Tuesday by the prosecution was forensic specialist Shelby Liddell.
During Liddell’s brief testimony, Peuvrelle showed her a picture of a cargo trailer at Ruben’s property, as well as bedding from a home in San Pedro where Paul was living at the time of his arrest.
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Nadal then returned to the stand. Peuvrelle asked him about the search warrant he served at Paul’s home.
Nadal described a sunroom in the residence that he searched, testifying that he submitted a Dell computer that was on the desk into evidence.
Next up was Sheriff’s detective JT Camp, who has been called to the stand multiple times during the trial.
Peuvrelle showed him various DMV documents for a blue-green Ford Ranger, as well as a white Nissan pickup.
He then asked Camp to confirm that the documents showed a transfer of ownership of the white Nissan pickup from Ruben Flores to Paul Flores. Camp provided confirmation.
During Sanger’s cross-examination of Camp, he showed Camp an image of the pickup and asked if he had heard that the vehicle was reported stolen by Paul Flores. Camp said he had.
Sanger also asked Camp if he had collaborated with Peuvrelle to discuss strategies in the case.
Peuvrelle objected and the competing counsels as well as Monterey County Superior Court Judge Jennifer O’Keefe met privately for a discussion before Camp could answer.
It was decided to end Camp’s testimony briefly and to instead bring in detective Clint Cole, with the intention of bringing Camp back to the stand.
When questioned by Peuvrelle, Cole explained that the white truck was a two-wheel drive truck, something Camp had been unable to answer.
Peuvrelle then asked Cole if he was present in the courtroom with Jennifer Hudson when she testified and described the truck as a four-wheel drive, prompting a big objection from Sanger and another brief recess.
In a statement of frustration from Sanger, he accused Peuvrelle of misconduct and called for a mistrial for asking leading questions, saying that Peuvrelle “knows better” and that the truck Hudson saw was a separate vehicle.
Sanger said that Peuvrelle acted inappropriately, but Judge O’Keefe dismissed the objection.
When Camp returned to the stand, Peuvrelle asked him about a search warrant he served with Cole in May of last year.
Camp testified that the search was intended to obtain buccal DNA swab samples from Ruben. Camp said the meeting was pre-arranged with Ruben’s attorney.
Camp went on to explain that while Ruben was reading the warrant authorization documents from the investigators, he stated that Susan Flores and Mike McConville had committed no felonies, “only me.”
Camp testified that Ruben then corrected himself and said he was the only one that had been arrested.
Peuvrelle then played an audio recording of Cole and Camp serving the warrant at Ruben’s home where both could be heard speaking with the now defendant.
“They haven’t committed no felonies, only me… I mean, I am the only one that has been arrested,” Ruben can be heard saying in the recording.
The next person to testify was Christopher Fitzpatrick, a computer forensics specialist with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.
Peuvrelle showed him pictures of the Dell desktop computer taken from Paul’s home.
Fitzpatrick testified that he had been assigned to retrieve information from the device and said that he had found previous W2 and tax forms on the computer along with images of the Flores family.
At the end of the day, while arguing that there was no evidence linking his client to Kristin’s murder, Mesick told the court: for all we know, Kristin could be in Dubai or the Middle East. There is no evidence that she’s dead. Mesick apologized to the Smart family before making the statement.
Both Mesick and Sanger argued for the judge to declare a mistrial based on local of evidence and speculation. The judge ruled to move forward with the trial.
Before resting the peoples’ case, Peuvrelle walked through different elements of evidence, going back to the beginning of the trial.
The defense will begin presenting its case on Wednesday at 8:30 a.m.
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