OAKLAND -- Gripping details about the mysterious and shocking killing of a 14-year-old Pleasanton high school girl almost three decades ago were revealed in court Tuesday as a three-day preliminary hearing began against a schoolmate accused of murdering her.
Graphic descriptions of how Tina Faelz died, stabbed 44 times and left face down in a ditch covered in blood, and incriminating actions that Steven John Carlson, accused of killing Faelz, is believed to have made, took up most of the first day of a hearing. A judge will decide if there is enough evidence to send Carlson before a jury.
Carlson, who has a long criminal history, including being a registered sexual offender, is accused of killing Faelz on April 4, 1984, in a case that puzzled Pleasanton police until last year when police said advancements in DNA testing allowed investigators to match DNA found on Faelz's purse to Carlson's DNA profile.
Carlson, who had always been a suspect in the killing, has denied any involvement in Faelz's death but on Tuesday, a childhood friend testified that Carlson made incriminating statements a day after the killing and acted strangely the day it occurred.
Todd Smith, 44, who was also an initial suspect in the case, said he can clearly remember the day after Faelz's body was found when he was riding his bicycle with his younger brother in front of Carlson's house.
Smith said he saw Carlson smoking marijuana and siphoning gasoline out of a car gas tank, using a tube and his mouth when they passed. At that point, Smith said, Carlson saw the pair, ran from his garage and approached Smith's brother.
"He said, 'Come here little boy, let me kill you like I killed her,'" Smith said as he recalled the incident. "I punched Steve, and we drove home on our bikes."
That was just one piece of evidence Smith provided Tuesday as he talked about the day Faelz died and the heartache it caused both him and the entire Pleasanton community.
Smith said he was friends with Carlson and hung out with the then-16-year-old since they were in middle school together. Smith said Carlson always seemed to have a violent sense of humor; he recalled two incidents in which Carlson tortured animals.
In one, Smith said, Carlson collected a couple of lizards during a birthday party, took them to a sink inside his home and threw them in the garbage disposal as it was running.
"And then he just laughed," Smith said.
In another instance, Smith said, Carlson had a habit of catching neighborhood cats and abusing them.
"He would grab cats by the tail and swing them in a circle yelling, 'Look mom, I caught a possum,'" Smith said.
Smith said that type of behavior made him believe it was strange on April, 4, 1984 that Carlson refused to go see Faelz's body after other kids had found it in a culvert near Interstate 680. That culvert, which went under the freeway, was frequently used by students of Foothill High School as a shortcut to walk home.
"Anything that was exciting, he was definitely part of wanting to know what was going on," Smith said.
Smith's credibility, however, was attacked by Carlson's attorney, Cameron Bowman, who aggressively questioned Smith about why he never told police about the statement he claims Carlson made to his brother.
Although Smith said he called police after it occurred and was blown off, there is no record of the call being made and investigators' notes from four interviews police had with Smith never mentioned such a statement.
Smith said he could not remember talking to police, and Bowman pointed out that Smith told police in 1986 that his recollection of the day was fuzzy.
"So, we should trust you even though you don't remember being interviewed four times," Bowman asked at one point. "Is it possible after 20 years this just popped into your head?"