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A judge today questioned the reliability of a key prosecution witness in the murder of 14-year-old Pleasanton high school student Tina Faelz in 1984 but ruled that there’s still enough evidence to have the suspect in the case stand trial. At the end of a two-day preliminary hearing for Steven Carlson, who was 16 at the time and is now 44, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman said DNA evidence that ties Carlson to Faelz’s death is admissible and therefore Carlson should face a trial on a charge that he murdered her.
Goodman said the testimony of Todd Smith, 44, who attended Foothill High School with both Carlson and Faelz and said Carlson made an incriminating comment the day after Faelz was killed on April 5, 1984, was problematic, but he believes it should be up to a jury to evaluate Smith’s credibility. Faelz was found dead in a ditch adjacent to Interstate Highway 680, east of the high school, after she was killed on her way home from school. Pathologist Dr. Thomas Rogers testified that she died from 44 stabbing and incised wounds. The cold case began to crack open in 2008 when police re-examined the evidence using DNA analytical technology that wasn’t available in 1984 and the evidence connected Carlson to Faelz’s death. Carlson, who has a long criminal history, including convictions for committing lewd acts with a child under the age of 14 and assault, was arrested and charged in August 2011.
FBI forensic scientist Shane Hoffmann testified today that Carlson’s blood was found on a purse found hanging in a tree above Faelz’s body. Faelz’s blood also was found on the purse, prosecutor Annie Saadi said. Hoffmann said Carlson’s blood was the only male blood on the purse. “I can say to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that Steven Carlson is the source” of the male blood, he said. However, Carlson’s lawyer, Cameron Bowman, questioned the reliability of the blood evidence, alleging that Pleasanton police misplaced the purse between April 1984 and January 1986. “Nobody knows where this purse was until 1986,” Bowman said.
But Saadi said she believes the reason the purse doesn’t show up in Pleasanton police logs during that time period is that police didn’t examine it until January 1986, when they decided for the first time to check it for blood and fingerprints. Goodman agreed, saying Faelz’s murder was a big event in the Pleasanton community and he doesn’t think police would lose what he described as “a critical piece of evidence” for two years. Smith testified on Tuesday that when he and his younger brother bicycled past Carlson’s home the day after Faelz was killed Carlson approached his brother, made a stabbing motion and said, “Come here little boy and let me kill you like I killed her.”
Smith said he assumed Carlson was referring to Faelz because he had been with Carlson when they saw her walking home from school the previous day. Smith alleged that when he called Pleasanton police to report Carlson’s comment they laughed him off and didn’t follow up on it. Bowman said today that Smith’s allegation is “nonsense” because Faelz’s murder was “a huge case” that was shocking to the community and police tracked down every lead they received. The defense lawyer said Carlson’s alleged incriminating remark isn’t mentioned in the reports of four interviews that Pleasanton police conducted with Smith in 1984 and 1986.
Bowman said of Smith, “He should be ashamed to be up here (on the witness stand). He knows his testimony is not credible.” Although Bowman alleged that Smith’s testimony isn’t believable, he said Goodman should accept Smith’s testimony that he was with Carlson in Carlson’s car shortly before Faelz’s body was found in the ditch. Bowman said that according to the time frame established by Smith and other witnesses in the case, Carlson wouldn’t have had enough time after he dropped off Smith at his home to kill Faelz and then be spotted at his home a short time later.
Bowman said “it’s an extreme time frame” and Carlson would only have had 10 minutes to drop off Smith, track down and kill Faelz and then return home and be spotted in a different set of clothes. Carlson is scheduled to return to court on Oct. 31 to have pretrial dates set.
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