A judge Wednesday 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
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 Wednesday 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.
Days after Tina Faelz was stabbed to death in April 1984, her accused killer Steve Carlson threatened to kill another "like I killed her," according to testimony at Carlson's preliminary hearing.
In court Tuesday, Carlson, dressed in a red Alameda County Jail outfit, watched his former friend Todd Smith testify about his behavior on the day Faelz was killed.
Todd Smith told the court that Carlson normally had a fascination for the gruesome, but opted that day to stay at his home after neighborhood teens, classmates of all three, discovered the body.
"Anything that was exciting, he wanted to be part of, know what was going on," Smith testified, adding that Carlson's attraction to the morbid extended to throwing live lizards into the family's garbage disposal.
When Smith told Carlson that a body had been found near a culvert used as a shortcut by Foothill high students, "He said he wasn't going down there," Smith told the court.
Smith noted that Carlson had changed into shorts and that his hair was either wet or greasy.
"He had clean clothes on and appeared to be clean," Smith testified.
Carlson, he said, referenced Faelz when he threatened to kill his younger brother when the two went to Carlson's home.
"He said, 'Come here, little boy, let me kill you like I killed her," Smith told the court. He said that led to him punching Carlson, then calling the police to report what he'd heard.
He said the officer who answered the phone didn't take him seriously.
"I remember clearly, he said, 'Thanks a lot, kid,'" Smith testified.
However, defense attorney Cameron Bowman noted that there was no record of that call.
Bowman also pressed Smith on differences between his initial statements to police when Smith was among the suspects in the case prompting Smith to say a number of times that he either could not remember what he'd told police or, in some cases, not remember the interview at all.
The defense attorney also pushed Smith about inconsistencies about that date Carlson made the comment about "killing her." He pointed to police interviews over the course of three weeks, and asked why Smith hadn't brought up the threat Carlson had made during any of those interviews.
Bowman also noted that Smith called his memory "hazy" in a 1986 interview with police.
Smith admitted under questioning that he has a felony record for possession of stolen merchandise and several misdemeanor convictions as well.