DNA, shoe print analysis fail to link murder trial defendant to crime scene

California Department of Justice officials on Tuesday testified that an analysis of DNA evidence and a shoe print failed to link Carlos Ivan Flores to the scene of a 2015 deadly home-invasion robbery in west Modesto.

Flores is on trial, accused of gunning down Jose Roberto Sepulveda inside Sepulveda’s home in the 800 block of Pine Tree Lane, just south of Paradise Road. Two robbers reportedly forced their way inside the home and held Sepulveda’s wife and children captive, demanding money.

Authorities say the robbers were searching for drugs and cash. Sepulveda tried to pull a gun away from one of the robbers, and a struggle ensued. Moments later, Sepulveda was shot in his kitchen.

Criminalist Stephen Cavanaugh analyzed Sepulveda’s hands, trying to determine whether some of the robbers’ DNA was transferred to the victim’s fingernails during the struggle. He excluded some fingernails because Sepulveda’s blood was on them and would have overwhelmed any other DNA sources.

Cavanaugh testified that he found traces of DNA from only Sepulveda and his wife on a left-hand fingernail. He said Flores’ DNA was not found on that fingernail. An analysis of a fingernail on Sepulveda’s right hand found traces of DNA from only the victim and no one else.

The criminalist told the jury that he found an additional trace of DNA on Sepulveda’s left-hand fingernail, but there wasn’t enough DNA material to analyze. Cavanaugh said it’s common to find a spouse’s DNA on a victim’s hands, because DNA can be transferred simply by touching.

Doorknobs rejected

Doorknobs from the home were submitted to the state Department of Justice crime lab for DNA analysis, but Cavanaugh said they were not analyzed because doorknobs typically have small traces of DNA coming from a large amount of sources. He said it would be too difficult to know for certain whether a suspect was or was not at a crime scene.

The deadly robbery occurred about 9:40 p.m. Aug. 2, 2015. Flores was later identified by Modesto police as a suspect in the shooting.

About a month after the robbery, Flores was arrested after trying to enter the country from Mexico. He was found at the Calexico port of entry in Southern California, where he said he had been in Mexico for a month. He was wearing white Nike sneakers that were collected as evidence.

Cavanaugh examined a stain found on one of Flores’ shoes. He testified it was not a blood stain, and that there was no DNA material to analyze.

Sneakers collected

Criminalist James Hamiel compared the soles of Flores’ shoes to the shoe print found at Sepulveda’s home. He said the manufacture characteristics of Flores’ sneakers and the shoe print were very similar, but the shoes aren’t rare. Hamiel has seen the Nike shoe model in other criminal cases.

He testified he couldn’t say for sure that the size of the sneakers and the shoe print were the same, because shoe companies sometimes use similar shoe sole dimensions for different sizes.

Hamiel told the jurors that the sole on the shoe print was worn down less than the soles of Flores’ sneakers, which could be explained by the defendant’s monthlong trip to Mexico. He said a month is sufficient time to create a significant amount of wear on a shoe sole.

The criminalist also examined nicks, cuts and other individual markings on the shoe print and Flores’ sneakers. After a complete analysis, Hamiel said he could not rule out that Flores’ sneaker made the shoe print at the home. But he also said he could not determine whether Flores’ sneaker did make the shoe print.

Rosalio Ahumada: 209-578-2394, @ModBeeCourts