Podcaster Chris Lambert ordered to appear in court
SAN LUIS OBISPO — Court was back in session on Monday, July 6, for Paul and Ruben Flores in Monterey County. Prosecutors and defense attorneys presented motions to be heard by Monterey County Superior Court Judge Jennifer O’Keefe.
Paul is accused of the 1996 murder and disappearance of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart. His father, Ruben, is accused of helping his son after the fact.
From July 6 to July 8, Judge O’Keefe ruled on motions, with the court returning on July 11 for Ruben’s jury selection.
The July 6 hearing brought up a January 2020 recording between Paul and his mother, Susan Flores. During the phone call, Susan refers to a podcast discussing Smart’s disappearance.
San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle requested that the recording be admissible during the trial. Despite arguments from Paul’s defense lawyer, Robert Sanger, Judge O’Keefe said the statements would be admissible.
The second motion of the day from the prosecution involved conversations between Paul and a detective on May 31 and June 19, 1996.
Judge O’Keefe said she will allow the interviews to be used as part of Paul’s trial, but not Ruben’s trial, and denied a supplemental motion submitted by Sanger regarding the seizures of electronic devices in 2020.
The third piece discussion on that Wednesday regarded a statement made by Ruben in May 2021 when deputies collected DNA samples from him. Ruben saw Susan and her boyfriend were also to be swabbed.
Ruben made a comment to officers saying, “They didn’t commit a felony. Only I did.”
Judge O’Keefe ruled the statement could be heard by both juries.
For Thursday’s pretrial motions, Judge O’Keefe allowed the defense’s expert witness, Dr. James Ha, to testify on animal behavior in relation to their motion to dismiss all cadaver dog evidence in the case.
Sanger referred to the cadaver dogs as “junk science.” Cadaver dogs were used early on in the investigation, leading detectives to Paul’s dorm room at Cal Poly.
Harold Mesick, Ruben’s attorney, joined Sanger in comparing the cadaver dogs as “hocus pocus.”
Peuvrelle asserted that Dr. Ha’s focus has been birds and primates. This prompted Sanger to say Peuvrelle must not like birds.
But despite Sangers effords, Judge O’Keefe declined to exclude cadaver dog evidence.
Next, court moved forward to discuss DNA tested in 2019.
Angie Butler, a forensic serologist from the Serological Research Institute (SERI) in Richmond, was called to the stand by the prosecution.
According to Butler’s testimony, on Nov. 14, 2019, she received a tan canvas mattress cover from the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Department. Her understanding was the material came from Paul’s dorm room in Santa Lucia Hall.
A small brownish stain on the mattress cover tested positive for the “presumptive presence” of blood which Butler proceeded to dest for DNA analysis.
Butler’s analysis found incomplete DNA profiles of three contributors. However, she wasn’t able to confirm nor deny the DNA was Kristin Smarts.
After Butler was excused, the prosecution called Phil Hanes to the stand. Hanes conducted the ground penetrating radar (GPR) searches at Ruben Flores home in March and April of 2021.
During his testimony, Hanes recounted a 6-foot-by-4-foot anomaly using GPR under Ruben’s deck. Hanes testified the area was consistent with ground that had been dug up at one point and later refilled.
Hanes’ partner, Cindy Arrington, was then called up to testify. During her testimony, Arrington recalled the “bathtub ring” stain around the outer age, indicating something once buried there had leaked.
Arrington returned on Friday to be further cross-examined.
This time appearing via Zoom, Arrington said during cross-examination that she is unable to tell the age of the staining found under Ruben’s deck. However, she could confidently say the area was dug up on two occasions — finishing her cross-examination.
Sanger called Dr. David Carter, professor of forensic sciences at Chaminade University in Honolulu, to the stand via Zoom. Sanger mailed photos and reports to Carter along with new soil samples from Ruben’s property.
Sanger asked Carter if a body had been buried in one location and then reburied in another, what characteristics could be expected. However, Carter said he could not answer that question.
Carter clarifies that soil samples collected this year from Ruben’s property were tested, but he was not present to ensure the samples were properly collected.
Mesick then asked Carter if he would expect a significant amount of fluid in the soil where a 6’1” person was buried for several years, referring to the staining Arrington testified about. Carter responded, saying yes, he would expect that.
Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, a forensic science consultant with a Ph.D. in immunology, was called to the Zoom stand by Sanger.
Sanger submitted several hemoglobin tests from SERI — using soil samples from under Ruben’s deck. Of those samples, five tested positive for the presence of human blood, four tested weak-positive, and three tested negative.
However, Johnson said the Seratec test cards used had not been properly validated for soil testing at this time.
On July 10, Chris Lambert of the “Your Own Backyard” podcast covering Smart’s disappearance received an order to attend court. There is no confirmation yet as to when Lambert is expected to appear in court.
While opening statements are still expected to begin July 18, jury selection for Ruben was set to begin on July 11 and has yet to be completed.
The trial is expected to last into October.