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Dog handlers, forensics specialst take stand as Smart preliminary hearing reaches one-month mark

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – The Ruben and Paul Flores preliminary hearing hit the one-month mark on Thursday.

A dog handler from the Santa Clara County Search and Rescue team took to the stand in the Kristin Smart preliminary hearing Thursday.

Kristine Black was one of two dog handlers that participated in the search of Ruben Flores’ home at 710 White Court in Arroyo Grande on March 15, 2021.

After going through her qualifications, certifications and expertise, she spoke about her search on the property with her dog, Annie, a Belgian Malinois that specializes only in human remains detection. Black described the first part of her search, which was on a 1985 Volkswagen parked on the property. Black said her dog did not give a “final response,” also known as an “alert,” which meant the dog did not detect human remains.

After that, Black and Annie searched part of the property, but again, the dog did not give a final response, meaning no human remains were detected.

The two then went under the deck area, entering through a gate. Black said Annie had “behavior changes” to the left side of the gate area under the deck, and worked the area sniffing vigorously, but did not give a final response.

She interpreted that as the dog detected something, but it wasn’t strong enough to give an official alert.

Black is the first dog handler to appear in court Thursday. Karen Atkinson, a second dog handler on that same search testified in court Thursday afternoon.

Atkinson and her human remains detection dog, Amiga, took part in the same search of Ruben Flores’ home. Her testimony was similar to Black's. Atkinson said Amiga first searched the Volkswagen and did not detect any human remains. She then went to search under the deck of the house, and said that while Amiga worked to the left side of the entrance, she noted a “change of behavior,” with Amiga raising its head, studying the area and sniffing intently.

However, the dog did not give Atkinson an alert, meaning it did not find a definitive set of human remains. However when asked by prosecutor Chris Peuvrelle about the significance of the dogs behavior without giving an official alert, Atkinson said she believes the dog appeared to briefly encounter and detect some sort of target odor, but it was so slight and it was not strong enough to give her an official response.

Another witness who was scheduled to take the stand Thursday will not appear. Jennifer Hudson, who is the woman that claimed Paul Flores told her in the summer of 1996 that he had buried Kristin Smart under a skateboard ramp in Huasna, is sick and will not appear. A different witness will instead take the stand.

Hudson was the subject of part of Wednesday's hearing as Paul Flores' defense attorney Robert Sanger questioned lead detective Clint Cole. During a string of contentious cross examination, Sanger accused Cole of inappropriate behavior with Hudson. Sanger questioned Cole about late night conversations he may have had with Hudson while he was drinking, also asking him about alleged deleted personal text messages he had with Hudson.

Paul Flores is believed to be the last person to see Kristin Smart alive. He's accused of killing Smart during an attempted rape in his dorm room. His father, Ruben Flores, has been charged as an accessory to the crime, accused of helping to conceal Smart's body.

Paul and Ruben Flores were arrested earlier this year in April. Both have pleaded not guilty to the charges. Paul Flores remains jailed without bail. Ruben Flores is out of custody after posting bail following his arrest.

This is is the fifth week of the Flores preliminary hearing which is being held in San Luis Obispo Superior Court. The hearing is being held to determine if there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial.

Digital communication is limited during this preliminary hearing. We will continue to bring you updates on air and online throughout the process.

Playlist: The Disappearance of Kristin Smart

Article Topic Follows: San Luis Obispo County

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Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Dave, click here.


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