NewsKristin Smart Case


Archaeologist describes anomaly found under Ruben Flores' deck during 2021 search

Posted at 4:25 PM, Aug 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-31 22:49:03-04

Another cadaver dog handler took the stand Wednesday in the Kristin Smart murder trial.

Paul and Ruben Flores are on trial in Salinas for the murder of 19-year-old Kristin, who disappeared from the Cal Poly campus in 1996 and has never been found.

She was declared legally dead in 2002.

Much of Wednesday's hearing was spent with expert witnesses who searched Ruben Flores' home back in March 2021. San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle called in dog handler and Archaeologist Philip Hanes, who described their findings at the property on White Court in Arroyo Grande.

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Karen Atkinson testified about a search she and her dog did at Ruben Flores' home in March 2021

Atkinson has worked as a certified dog handler since 2012 and has been involved in multiple search and rescue efforts.

She was asked specifically about her dog, Amiga, who searched Ruben’s property last year.

Atkinson said Amiga, a Labrador born in 2010 but now a retired search dog, was certified in human remains detection at the time.

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Karen Atkinson's dog, Amiga, took part in a search on Ruben Flores' Arroyo Grande property in March 2021

Despite multiple objections by Paul Flores’ defense attorney, Robert Sanger, Monterey County Superior Court Judge Jennifer O’Keefe allowed Atkinson to describe Amiga's response to target odors.

Atkinson said Amiga normally becomes very animated, slows her pace, has rapid tail wagging and sits down.

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Defense Attorney Robert Sanger in court Aug. 31, 2022

At Ruben’s home, Atkinson said dog handler Kristine Black, who testified Tuesday, also participated in the search but adds that Amiga was the first canine deployed in the search.

Atkinson explained Amiga was instructed to begin with a vehicle located in the driveway, then to the lattice that runs along the house and the backyard.

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Deputy D.A. Christopher Peuvrelle in court Aug. 31, 2022

When asked by Peuvrelle about Amiga's behavior at Ruben’s home, Atkinson said it was by the lattice where Amiga reacted. “It was a point in my assignment that I noted that she came in contact with some of her target odor," she said.

During cross examination, Ruben’s attorney, Harold Mesick, asked about the freshness of the blood used to train Atkinson’s dogs and what was the oldest blood used.

Atkinson said they do train on blood that’s maybe a few years old, but they refresh their training sources regularly.

The next person called to the stand was Archaeologist Philip Hanes, who used a ground penetrating radar during the March 2021 search, a tool he says he has been using for the last 15 years to detect archaeological sites and burial locations.

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A search with ground penetrating radar was done at Ruben Flores' home in March 2022 and the photo shown in court Aug. 31, 2022

Hanes described the assignment he took on with his business partner, Cindy Harrington, to search Ruben’s property.

He said they established a 35-foot-long search area, which covered the porch and an avocado orchard.

Hanes used his ground penetrating radar and reported an anomaly or disturbance underneath the porch.

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Archaeologist Philip Hanes testifies Aug. 31, 2022 about a search conducted at Ruben Flores' home in 2021

Peuvrelle asked if this suggested that soil had been dug out and refilled. Hanes replied, “That is a possibility.”

That anomaly was reported to be a 6x4-foot disturbance that was 3.5-feet deep.

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Paul and Ruben Flores in court Aug. 31, 2022

During the discussion surrounding ground penetrating radar, jurors submitted three questions. The first question was about how far underground the radar machine can study soil. The second question asked if ground penetrating radar could also detect other fluids and the third was regarding the need to recalibrate the radar.

During cross examination, Mesick asked Hanes if he could tell when the soil in the six-foot anomaly could have been removed. Hanes responded “no.”

Hanes also said another slight anomaly was found at Ruben’s home but since it was near some avocado trees, their assessment was that the disturbance was likely caused by mature tree roots.

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A photo shown in court Aug. 31, 2022 surrounding discussion of a search on Ruben Flores' property in 2021

Testimony is expected to resume Thursday.

Paul Flores is charged with the murder of Kristin Smart. Ruben Flores is charged as an accessory after the fact, accused of helping hide her body.

The pair are being tried together but have separate juries who will ultimately hand down separate verdicts.

The trial was moved out of San Luis Obispo County and is taking place in Salinas.

If convicted, Paul faces a maximum sentence of 25 years-to-life in prison. Ruben faces a maximum sentence of three years in jail.