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Canine handlers, forensic specialist detail March search of Ruben Flores's home

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Posted at 9:30 AM, Sep 02, 2021

UPDATE: On Thursday, Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office Canine Specialized Search Team handler Kristine Black took the stand in the preliminary hearing for Paul and Ruben Flores.

The two are charged in the death of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart.

As the assistant director for the search and rescue team, Black talked about her search of Ruben’s home on White Court in Arroyo Grande on March 15 of this year.

She said she brought her Belgian Malinois, Annie, with her and first searched a maroon 1985 Volkswagon that was later seized from Ruben’s home as part of the investigation.

Black says Annie, who is only trained in detecting human remains, went inside the vehicle but did not have a final response. They headed into Ruben’s backyard next.

She testified that Annie started to show changes in behavior in an area under the left side of the deck behind some lattice and while the behavior change was consistent with odor, Black says Annie did not go to a final response, instead putting her nose down and changing her breathing and snorting hard while circling the area.

Karen Atkinson, who is also with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office’s search and rescue team, testified that she searched the property with her dog, Amiga, on the same day and had the same results.

Atkinson said she noticed a slight change in behavior in Amiga when under the left side of the deck as well, saying the English lab did some raised head pops and studied the area before moving on.

Atkinson described the change in behavior as being characteristic for when Amiga detects her target odor – human remains – but Atkinson says the dog’s alert is sitting, which she did not do.

During cross examination, Sarah Sanger, who represents Paul Flores, questioned whether a change in behavior is not an alert and Black said yes.

Ruben’s attorney, Harold Mesick, questioned whether Black searched any trailers on the property, to which she replied no.

During the afternoon session, the court heard testimony from a forensic specialist with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.

Shelby Liddell talked about two different searches at Ruben’s home on March 15 and 16, 2021. She was assigned to process the scene at 710 White Court, including taking photos and collecting soil samples.

Liddell testified that at three-feet deep, while detectives were digging up under the deck in the backyard, they started noticing staining in the soil.

Dark staining was noticed down to four-feet, according to Liddell, who told the court she collected samples along with control samples around the property.

She said she returned on April 13 and 14 to collect more samples from under the deck again.

Court resumed again shortly before 3:30 p.m.
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ORIGINAL STORY: Testimony continues Thursday during the preliminary hearing for the father and son charged in connection with the death of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart.

Following multiple delays and days off in the hearing, which began in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Aug. 2, Thursday marks the fourth consecutive day of the hearing for Ruben and Paul Flores this week.

Wednesday the court heard from San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Detective Clint Cole, who testified that searches of Ruben's home turned up evidence leading them to believe human remains had been buried there.

Paul, 44, is charged with the murder of Kristin Smart, who disappeared from Cal Poly in 1996. His father, Ruben, 80, is charged as an accessory.

The hearing is expected to last into next week.

KSBY will have more on what takes place in court on KSBY.com and KSBY News at 5 and 6 p.m.