Defense lawyer attacks credibility of dead dog alerts in Paul Flores dormitory
Editor’s Note: The People v. Flores is covered daily by Mustang News. Follow @CPMustangNews on Twitter and Instagram for more updates. Read previous articles about the lawsuit here.
The People against Flores The murder trial continued on Monday with the cross-examination of two people involved in the investigation into the 1996 disappearance of Kristin Smart.
Paul Flores, 45, is charged with the murder of Kristin Smart. His father, Ruben Flores, 81, is accused of complicity in murder after the fact. The two were arrested in April 2021 and their trials began on July 18.
First to appear on Monday was investigator James “JT” Camp, who has already testified in court three times throughout the trial.
Prosecutor Christopher Peuvrelle showed the camp photos he took in June 2021 of the red-brick residences and the intersection of Perimeter Road and Grand Avenue at Cal Poly.
Camp said Muir Hall is on an upward slope from Grand Avenue and Mountain Lane runs through the back of the Santa Lucia Residence – directly behind Paul Flores’ bedroom window in 1996.
Based on the prosecution‘s opening statement, the prosecution presents a theory that Paul Flores killed Smart in his dorm and moved his body to his father’s house.
Paul Flores told officers in 1996 that the last time he saw Smart was when they were walking up Perimeter Road and she was heavily drunk, meaning she should have walked up to his Muir dormitory.
Dead dog alerted ‘almost immediately’ to Paul Flores’ dormitory in 1996, dog handler testifies
Next on the stand was Adella Morris, a professional human remains dog handler. Morris was called to Cal Poly in 1996 to help 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.
Cal Poly agents asked Morris to have his dog searched at the Santa Lucia residence.
Morris and his dog, Cholla, began their search at the southwest entrance to Santa Lucia, where Morris left Cholla to survey the raging area.
“She, like, ran down the hall and almost immediately she literally turned around and started to come back and focus on some of the doors,” Morris said Monday.
Cholla inspected two doors before alerting to room 128, Paul Flores’ room.
Once officers let Morris and Cholla inside, Cholla continually alerted the left side of the room, specifically Paul Flores’ mattress, that she had found an odor of human remains.
Cholla’s alert consisted of jumping on Morris when she detected signs of human remains, which she did on several occasions.
On Monday, Morris described Cholla’s reaction to the left side of the room as a “repeated enthusiastic alert” and said the dog had no interest in the right side of the room.
“I had no doubt that she had given him the alert that she gave when she detected human remains, and it was a very strong alert – it 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 alerted the dormitory, she let the Circus inspect the area blindly, as she had done with the first dog.
Without Morris giving Cirque any idea what Cholla had just done, Cirque also alerted on the left side of Paul Flores’ dormitory.
Neither Cholla nor the Circus alerted to another location within the three-story Santa Lucia.
Morris said other dog handlers were also present with their dogs and they all alerted Room 128.
Defense questions credibility of dead dog alerts
Paul Flores’ defense attorney, Robert Sanger, questioned Morris on the validity of CARDA-imposed standards on human remains detection certification.
During his first round of testimony with Peuvrelle, Morris said CARDA was a statewide organization under the Office of Emergency Services (OES).
Sanger later told Morris that CARDA was not a government agency and only issued certifications on behalf of the organization and not “the force of state law”.
Morris corrected him by saying that the standards for human remains detection dogs and handlers were actually developed by the OES. Sanger said that in 1996 CARDA was still using its own certification standards.
In 1996, Morris was part of a committee working with the OES to develop state standards. Sanger said these did not go into effect until after the searches at Cal Poly, but Morris could not remember the month they were put in place that year.
Sanger also referred to an article Morris wrote in 1998 alongside other professionals on human remains detection dogs, which stated that dogs “should never be trained for any other type of scent work.”
By 1996 standards, both Cholla and Cirque were originally trained as live search dogs, meaning they were able to detect living scents as well as human remains.
Morris maintained that she agreed with the article’s statement, but that the 1996 standards stated that human remains detection dogs also had to be trained live.
Sanger also pointed out that Morris emailed a colleague asking for comment on the 1996 research before writing his report on it, which Sanger called the potential for “implicit bias” in the report.
Morris maintained that his report was objective and based only on facts, and added that his colleague had “no idea” of his questions.
Sanger also told Morris that scientists disagree or aren’t exactly sure what dogs react to, allowing them to identify it as human decomposition for dogs.
Morris agreed but said the chemical compounds in what dogs smell that make them pay attention to human remains is not his particular area of study.
On another occasion in 1997, Morris was called to bring her dogs to Susan Flores’ home on East Branch Street.
She said the dogs were interested in a corner of the yard next to the trash cans, but there was no alert.
The court ran out of time when cross-examining Sanger. Morris will return to the helm on Tuesday.