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Kristin Smart case: “Your Own Backyard” podcaster called to testify; still allowed in court as media

Pool photo by Dave Minsky | Santa Maria Times
Paul Flores, left, with his attorney Robert Sanger, right, on Aug. 9, the fifth day of a preliminary hearing for him and his father, Ruben Flores.

On the sixth day of the preliminary hearing for Paul and Ruben Flores, the morning session began with Robert Sanger, representing Paul Flores, continuing to question Det. Clint Cole about unfollowed leads.

Defense attorney representing Ruben Flores, Harold Mesick, questioned Cole about some of the reasons he came to the conclusion that Paul Flores was a suspect and if there could be innocent explanation for the inconsistencies about the black eye and Smart’s level of intoxication.

Sanger also asked why Cole was wearing a purple tie, to which Cole responded that he had heard from a social media post that it was Smart’s favorite color.

Sanger made an oral motion and challenged that the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office is unqualified to prosecute the case because of a conflict of interest or lack of impartiality, citing that Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle and Cole, a lead detective, have consistently been wearing purple ties.

“Quite frankly, I can’t believe they’d do that in this case,” Sanger said. Sanger said that this sort of “prejudice” is not supposed to be allowed.

“I don’t think there’s ever been enough evidence to arrest [Paul Flores],” Sanger said.

Van Rooyen, who noted he was also wearing a purple tie, told Sanger to file a written motion to recuse the District Attorney’s Office and a hearing would be set.

Jeromy Moon, Paul Flores’ former friend, took the stand next. Moon said he noticed Flores’ black eye less than two days after Smart’s disappearance.

When Moon asked Flores how he got a black eye, Moon testified that Flores told him he had just woken up with it. Moon said he played basketball with Flores over Memorial Day weekend and doesn’t remember Flores being hit in the face.

Moon was excused.

Angie Doe, Paul Flores’ ex-girlfriend, testified next. She said while visiting Ruben Flores’ home in Arroyo Grande, she was walking in the backyard and both Paul and Ruben Flores redirected her away from the avocado trees. Previously, investigators said Smart’s body was buried in the backyard at that time.

In a cross examination by Sanger, Angie Doe said she talked to “Your Own Backyard” podcaster Chris Lambert and Dennis Mahon, a friend of the Smart Family and who ran a website called Son of Susan.

Angie Doe said once her and Paul Flores broke up, she learned about the Smart case and emailed the Son of Susan website. Mahon contacted her a year later and Angie Doe said the first time she was interviewed by law enforcement was in February.

Angie Doe was excused.

Chris Lambert, the creator of the podcast “Your Own Backyard,” was called to testify in the preliminary hearing with Sanger saying Lambert had talked to several witnesses before their interviews with law enforcement.

Ramona Messina, a defense investigator, served Lambert with a subpoena about 10 minutes before the afternoon session began. Lambert has been in the courtroom, as a member of the media, covering the hearing for his podcast.

Other witnesses have not been allowed in the courtroom until their testimony to prevent bias, but the judge said that there are exceptions.

“Just because [Lambert] has been served does not necessarily mean he should be excluded,” van Rooyen said. The judge also added that he wouldn’t exclude a member of the media for doing their job.

District Attorney Dan Dow entered the courtroom shortly after the lunch session. This was the first time he appeared in the courtroom for the preliminary hearing.

Then Rick Neufeld, a retired San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office Deputy, took the stand. Neufeld was the detective who processed Paul Flores’ Santa Lucia dorm room on June 24, 1996. Neufeld went to collect potential evidence and take photographs with Cal Poly Police Detective Lawrence Kennedy, who testified last week.

Neufeld used an alternative light source, which uses light frequencies to identify areas where there may be semen or blood stains.

Neufeld said the room had been cleaned before he went in, but said he collected fibers, hair and cut out part of a mattress that he suspected was a semen stain. Neufeld later collected Flores’ mattress and canvas box spring cover, after being told a cadaver dog alerted to the mattress, and took it to a forensic lab.

Neufeld was excused and subject to recall.

The last person to take the stand today was Adela Morris, who is a human remains detection dog handler with about 35 years of experience.

On June 29, 1996 the San Luis Obispo County’s Sheriff Department called her to the Santa Lucia dorms. There were multiple human remains detection dogs and handlers at the scene. Morris said the Sheriff’s Department set up a large search operation covering multiple areas.

Morris had two dogs at the Santa Lucia dorm rooms named Cholla and Cirque – both certified in human remains detection.

Morris said the dog handlers did not discuss what their dogs alerted to before the search was over because when the dogs alert blindy – without any possible cues from their handler – the evidence is more “powerful.”

The preliminary hearing will continue tomorrow at 9 a.m. with Morris still on the stand.

Lauren Walike joined KCBX as its news manager in February 2021. In addition to her KCBX work, Lauren also serves as news director for KCPR-FM, Cal Poly’s student-run radio station, and digital director of Mustang Media Group, Cal Poly’s student-run news organization. She will graduate from Cal Poly’s Honors Program in June 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in journalism with minors in Integrated Marketing Communications and Media Arts, Society and Technology.
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