A dog handler tested at the Kristin Smart murder trial this week that her cadaver dog made a beeline for the bed in suspect Paul Flores’ dorm room in the weeks after the student’s 1996 disappearance.
Paul Flores, 45, and his 81-year-old father, Ruben, are on trial for the disappearance and death of 19-year-old California Polytechnic State University student Kristin Smart, who was last seen with the younger Flores.
Dog handler Adela Morris, who was enlisted to assist in the police investigation in the weeks after Smart vanished, took the stand at the Monterey County court on Monday.
She told the court that when she released her K9 Cholla at Santa Lucia Hall, the border collie search dog ‘immediately made a U-turn and became ‘very methodical and slow’ ultimately wanting to get into room 128 — Paul Flores’ room.
Morris said that when Cholla entered the room she was ‘extremely focused’ and ‘very clearly in scent’ as she alerted her handler by jumping to her hip, focused only on the left side of the room – where Flores slept.
‘I had no doubts that she gave her alert that she gives when she detects human remains and it was a very strong alert,’ Morris said. ‘She was very clear.’
Paul Flores is on trial for Smart’s disappearance and murder more than two decades after she was last seen. His father is charged with acting as an accessory after the fact for allegedly helping his son hide Smart’s body.
The trial is expected to last four months.
Dog handler Adela Morris, who was enlisted to assist in the police investigation in the weeks after Smart vanished, took the stand at the Monterey County court on Monday
Morris told the court that when she released her K9 Cholla at Santa Lucia Hall, the border collie search dog ‘immediately made a U-turn and became ‘very methodical and slow’ ultimately wanting to get into room 128 — Paul Flores’ room
Paul Flores, now 45 (left), is charged with murder in the commission of a rape or attempted rape. His father, Ruben Flores, now 81 (right), is charged with accessory after the fact
Morris told the court on Monday that she and Cholla were called to be part of the ‘very large search’ at Cal Poly following Smart’s disappearance, in which they searched reservoirs near the campus, and then the Santa Lucia residence hall.
The search was done blindly, which means the handlers were not told if another team had already searched the area or the results of that search.
‘We want to search knowing nothing, so all we have is the dog’s nose,’ she said. She added that she found out later that another handler had previously searched the dorms.
During her search of the residence hall, Morris said she let Cholla off the leash allowing her to search for her target scent when she ran down the hall and ‘almost immediately’ made a U-turn and began concentrating about three-fourths of the way down the hall.
‘She’s literally going nose around cracks of door, door handles,’ Morris said. ‘She got to one of the doors and she came running back to me to jump on me, which is her alert that she had located her target odor of human remain scent.’
The dog then led Morris to room 128 and began scratching on the door, Morris told the court. Room 128 was Paul Flores’ room.
Morris, the dog and another officer entered the room, where Morris said the dog became ‘extremely focused’ and ‘very clearly in scent.’
Cholla alerted at the bed on the left side — the side where Paul Flores slept.
‘She was very emphatic and enthusiastic about it. She was very clear,’ she said.
Morris said Cholla alerted her by jumping to her hip, though the normal alert was at her thighs. She tried directing the dog to look at the right side of the room, but the dog was only interested in the left side of the room.
‘She really wanted to communicate when she jumped harder and higher’ Morris said. ‘She would literally use my body to jump off, push off — that’s a very enthusiastic alert.’
The dog continued sniffing and alerted Morris about a dozen times, but never seemed to settle on a specific part of the bed, Morris tested.
The duo left the room to search other areas, but Cholla did not alert to any other rooms or areas of the dorm building, Morris said.
California Polytechnic State University student Kristin Smart’s remains have never been found and the mystery of how she vanished from the scenic campus tucked against a verdant coastal mountain range is likely to be central to the trial
Paul and Kristin were both freshmen at Cal Poly in 1996 when they vanished. He was staying in Santa Maria Hall and she was in Muir Hall, which are 0.2miles apart – a four minute walk
Pictured: Kristin Smart’s room, where all her belongings were left in place after she went missing. A friend claimed he once saw Paul Flores bothering Smart in the room
Paul Flores is shown in an unrelated arrest photo from 1996, when he was 19.
During cross-examination on Monday, defense attorney Robert Sanger asked Morris if she was a volunteer and if she was unpaid and she replied yes.
He also questioned her about a letter she penned to another K9 expert, from whom she said she sought advice about how to respond to investigators’ questions.
Morris told Sanger: ‘The way I write the report is more factual: ‘I did this, the dog did this.’ It’s not my opinion.’
Smart’s remains have never been found and the mystery of how she vanished from the scenic campus tucked against a verdant coastal mountain range is likely to be central to the trial. She was declared dead in 2002.
Prosecutors alleged Paul Flores killed the 19-year-old during an attempted rape on May 25, 1996 in his dorm room at Cal Poly, where both were first-year students.
His father, now 81, allegedly helped bury the slain student behind his home in the nearby community of Arroyo Grande and later dug up the remains, moving them.
Paul Flores had long been considered a suspect in the killing, but prosecutors only arrested him and his father in 2021 after the investigation was revived.
San Luis Obispo Sheriff Ian Parkinson acknowledged missteps by detectives over the years and he credited a popular podcast about Smart’s disappearance called ‘Your Own Backyard’ for helping unearth new information and inspiring witnesses to speak with investigators.
Behind lattice work beneath the deck of his large house on a dead end street off Tally Ho Road, archaeologists working for police in March 2021 found a soil disturbance about the size of a casket and the presence of human blood, prosecutors said.
Paul Flores listens during opening statements in his murder trial in July in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas, Calif. He’s accused of killing Kristin Smart in 1996
Ruben Flores, father of Paul Flores, sits in court Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
The blood was too degraded to extract a DNA sample. While a blood expert said it was human blood, the test used did not rule out the possibility it was from a ferret or ape, though court records said no remains of such an animal were found there.
Attorney James Murphy Jr., who has sued the father and son on behalf of Smart’s parents, scoffed at the idea that it was anything other than human blood.
‘The size of the area in which the blood was found would make it a prehistoric ferret that would be in Jurassic Park,’ Murphy said. ‘When was the last time you drove down Tally Ho Road in Arroyo Grande and saw a primate?’
The lawsuit Murphy filed against Ruben Flores alleged that ‘under cover of darkness,’ the father and unnamed accomplices moved the body four days after investigators searched his house in February 2020. Investigators didn’t conduct their dig beneath the deck until more than a year later.
Traces of human blood were discovered by investigators under the deck at Ruben Flores’ Arroyo Grande residence. Prosecutors allege Smart’s body was stashed there and moved
In February 2020, police executed a search warrant at Paul’s San Pedro, California, home, and seized electronic devices containing homemade videos and rape porn, prosecutors say
Searches were done in February and March 2020 as part of investigation into Smart’s death