Testimony resumed Wednesday in the Kristin Smart murder trial following the holiday weekend and an extra day off.
Paul and Ruben Flores are charged in connection with the disappearance of Cal Poly freshman Kristin Smart in May 1996.
Paul has been charged with murder. His father, Ruben, is charged as an accessory, accused of helping hide Kristin’s body, which has never been found.
Once proceedings finally got underway around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Monterey County Superior Court Judge Jennifer O’Keefe apologized to jurors for the delay, explaining a witness scheduled to testify was sick and unable to appear.
There was no indication of who was scheduled or when the witness may appear in the future.
A forensic specialist with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office then took to the witness stand.
Shelby Liddell helped with a couple of the searches that took place at Ruben Flores’ home in March and April of 2021.
Liddell told jurors that investigators and deputies laid out several grids over the soil beneath the deck on the back of the house.
As they started digging, she says they noticed several areas with staining. Areas where the dirt was a lighter color but surrounded by a dark border.
Liddell described several pictures she’d taken during the searches that outlined the discolored areas and identified the depth.
She testified that the area under the deck is sloped and the staining occurred at different depths ranging from two to four feet below ground level.
Liddell talked about the process of taking soil samples from the discolored areas using a special probe and how it was stored in paper bags to help control moisture.
She says she also helped process other evidence collected during the searches, including a cargo trailer parked on the side of the house.
Investigators took the trailer to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office crime lab where they tested the floor using a chemical called “Blue Star.”
The chemical illuminates in the presence of blood.
San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle asked if the floor showed a positive reaction and she said yes, but added that the chemical will also react to some cleaners including chlorine bleach.
Liddell explained that detectives use the test to help identify items appropriate for further testing and is not conclusive by itself.
During cross examination, Paul’s attorney, Robert Sanger, questioned Liddell about her credentials.
She talked about hundreds of hours of training in gathering, processing and preserving evidence.
Sanger asked Liddell several questions about the staining in the soil, to which she replied she doesn’t have knowledge or expertise about soil staining and was on-site to collect potential evidence detectives identified.
At one point, Sanger asked, “If the theory is that a body was buried there and then dug back up, don’t you think the staining would be below that level?” Liddell told him and jurors that she didn’t have any knowledge about how soil staining occurs and said that’s why the anthropologists were called in.
Sanger also asked about the cargo trailer next to the house and whether it was in the same location during both searches in March and April of 2021. During a break, Liddell checked her photos from the searches and said the trailer was in the same location during each search.
Ruben’s attorney, Harold Mesick, asked Liddell about the condition of the ground under the deck before any digging happened. She said it was relatively level.
Mesick asked about whether any water was added to soil to make it easier to dig and what the deepest part of the excavation was. Liddell said no water was added and investigators dug to about four feet before hitting more compact soil that was difficult to dig.
Jurors also submitted several questions including whether the digging equipment was cleaned between sample collections and whether the probe was cleaned before samples were collected.
Liddell said the tools are cleaned between searches but not during a search itself. She also said there were multiple probes and a different probe was used to collect the samples from under the deck and control samples from other areas of the property.
Court will only be in session Wednesday and Thursday this week then continue again next Monday. Despite the latest delays, Judge O’Keefe says the trail is still on schedule.
Opening statement in the case began in mid-July and Judge O’Keefe indicated the trial could last into October.
If convicted, Paul, who is being held without bail, faces a sentence of 25 years to life. Ruben faces up to three years behind bars if convicted.