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Dog handler answers questions from jury in Kristin Smart murder trial

Posted at 3:42 PM, Aug 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-16 22:25:50-04

Much of the Kristin Smart murder trial on Tuesday was once again dedicated to a dog handler who searched for Kristin Smart in 1996 with special-trained dogs, but before that took place, the court heard more questions from jurors.

The jurors occasionally pass written questions to one of the bailiffs in the Salinas courtroom before the attorneys conference with the judge and then decide which questions are appropriate to ask.

The questions are then entered into evidence and asked by one of the attorneys.

Adela Morris was back on the stand Tuesday. She has spent more than 30 years training dogs to detect the smell of human remains.

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Dog handler Adela Morris on the stand for a second day Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022

She was asked some of the juror questions by Paul Flores’ attorney, Robert Sanger.

One juror wanted to know how long the scent of a cadaver stays detectable to dogs. After a short back-and-forth between Morris and Sanger, Morris ultimately said she couldn’t answer the question accurately.

Another juror wanted to know if any research had been published since 1996 that changed Morris’s opinion about her dog, Cholla’s, reaction. She answered she couldn’t recall reading anything that would change her mind.

Another juror wanted to know if human vomit would cause the dogs to alert. Morris said she didn’t really know the answer to that question.

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Paul Flores' defense attorney Robert Sanger in court Aug. 16, 2022

Questioning continued from all three attorneys in the case for the remainder of the morning into the afternoon.

Much of the questioning centered on what the dogs are actually able to detect or where the scents come from and how long they may linger. There was also much discussion about how the dogs let their handlers know they’ve found something and how those handlers interpret what the dogs are telling them.

Ruben Flores’ attorney, Harold Mesick, listed a number of searches that Morris and Cholla had worked on and asked how many cadavers they’d actually found. Morris said the team itself had located only one body but helped narrow down a search area in others.

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Ruben Flores' defense attorney Harold Mesick in court

A second dog handler, Wayne Behrens, also searched the dorms and Cal Poly campus for Kristin Smart in June of 1996.

He was on the witness stand Tuesday afternoon.

His dog, Sierra, was certified in cadaver location in June of 1996 just days before the search of the dorms and campus.

San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle asked again about the certification process. Behrens said the Office of Emergency Services sets the standards and an organization called CARDA (California Rescue Dog Association) certifies the dogs.

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Dog handler Wayne Behrens testifies the afternoon of Aug. 16, 2022 about a 1996 search he did at the Cal Poly dorms with his dog, Sierra.

Behrens and Sierra ultimately completed six different certifications in search and rescue.

The pair was requested to search an area near the Santa Lucia Dorm. Behrens says the search was blind meaning he didn't know who or what he was looking for.

Cadaver dog, Sierra, conducted a search of a Cal Poly dorm in 1996.

Behrens testified Sierra started to alert when she got near the dorm building. He ultimately asked to search inside the dorm itself. He says Sierra alerted on the door outside of Paul’s dorm room.

Once inside, Behrens says Sierra alerted to the same bed that the other search dog had identified.  Each of the dog handlers have said they were not aware of the other dog’s searches of the room.

During cross-examination, Sanger pressed Behrens on how many searches and how much experience Sierra had at the time of the Cal Poly Search. He said Sierra was certified on June 7 and the search was conducted June 29.  

Behrens said Sierra had been certified in wilderness search since 1994 and had search experience before being certified as a cadaver dog.  

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Dog handler Wayne Behrens and his dog, Sierra. Behrens was called to the stand Aug. 16, 2022 to testify as part of the Kristin Smart murder trial.

The two handlers drove down together, he testified, and the searches were conducted separately but Sanger wanted to know how much they discussed the case on the way back before the reports were completed.  

Berhens says they were in the same car and he was sure they would have discussed what they’d done.  

Sanger asked if he found any human remains in the room and Behrens said no, Sierra just alerted to the mattress.  

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Paul Flores masked in court on Aug. 16, 2022

Another alternate from Paul’s jury was excused from the case Tuesday. That brings the number of alternates for his case down to four. No reason was given other than the judge assured the others involved in the case that it was not related to COVID-19. There are three remaining alternates on Ruben’s jury.

Paul Flores is charged with murder in connection with the 1996 disappearance of Kristin Smart, who was last seen returning to the dorms after attending an off-campus party. His father, Ruben, is facing a charge of accessory after the fact, accused of helping hide Kristin’s body, which has never been found.

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Ruben Flores in court Aug. 16, 2022

If convicted, Paul faces a sentence of 25 years-to-life. Ruben faces a maximum sentence of three years behind bars.

The trial is on a break now through next Wednesday.

The case began with opening statements on July 18. The trial could last into October.