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Paul and Ruben Flores’ trial began Monday by presenting the jury with the story of Kristin Smart’s disappearance 26 years ago – and what investigations have since uncovered.
Arrested in April 2021, Paul Flores, 45, is charged with the 1996 murder of Kristin Smart. His father, Ruben Flores, 81, is accused of complicity in murder after the fact. Both Smart and Paul Flores were freshmen at Cal Poly when he told their peers he would walk her home from an off-campus party on Memorial Day weekend. Smart was reported missing shortly thereafter.
Paul and Ruben Flores will have separate juries and verdicts in this trial. The trial is being held in Monterey County Superior Court, with Judge Jennifer O’Keefe presiding.
San Luis Obispo Assistant District Attorney Chris Peurvrelle is representing the prosecution in the People against Flores Case. In her opening statement to the jury, Peuvrelle spoke about Kristin Smart’s life at the time of her disappearance.
Every Sunday, Smart called his parents to let them know about his college life. But after that weekend, she never called.
“1,359. It’s been 1,359 Sundays since May 26, 1996,” Peuvrelle said.
Peuvrelle’s speech highlighted key points the jury will hear throughout the trial, including a “burial site” found under the bridge of Ruben Flores’ home and witness statements regarding the words and actions of the Flores family after Smart’s disappearance.
Paul Flores’ defense attorney Robert Sanger’s opening statement responded to what he called the “kind of evidence” that was presented in the case. Sanger described Kristin Smart as someone who engaged in “risky behavior” and said Paul Flores stuck to his story despite attempts by officials and a public media campaign to get Flores to admit his actions. reprehensible.
Prosecution and defense deal with forensic evidence
The prosecution said blood samples were taken from both the mattress in Paul Flores’ dormitory and the floor tests in the Flores home.
In late June 1996, four dead dogs all alerted officers to a brown stain on the corner of the mattress in Flores’ dormitory – the “loudest” alert ever made by the dogs. Sanger said the people searching the dormitory were volunteers, not scientists, and the dogs finding something was nothing more than a “clue.”
The stain passed a presumptive test, showing positive for human blood. However, instead of doing a confirmatory blood test, the forensic scientist involved in the case opted for a DNA test, which showed that Smart could neither have been included nor excluded from the DNA sample.
During a search of Ruben Flores’ home in 2020, officials found missing posters and letters the Smart family had sent, pleading for help.
Five days after the search, one of Ruben’s neighbors saw Paul’s mother, Susan Flores, and her boyfriend trying to back up in a cargo trailer to his house, the back of the trailer facing the bridge. A chemical test on the trailer detected a possible bloodstain. Although he tested negative for human blood, Peuvrelle maintained that bleach and chlorine could cause a false negative, and that was the only clean part of the trailer.
In 2021, a soil test showed a “human-sized decomposition spot” 3-4 feet in the ground, along with evidence that something was put in the ground and later dug up. Twelve of the 36 soil samples tested positive for human blood, although tests may also appear positive for ferrets and monkeys. The house contractor said he did not find any bodily remains on the lot before the house was built.
The house’s cadaver dogs showed no interest in the property other than the area under the bridge, where they showed a “change in behavior,” Peuvrelle said.
Sanger argued that it could not be concluded from the soil sample that Smart was buried there. And since the archaeologist who found the evidence had earned his master’s degree, not his doctorate, he was “not an expert in decomposing bodies”, but sounded “like a fun guy”.
“If you had a burial in a place like this, you would find bones, hair, biological activity in the ground,” Sanger said.
Prosecution outlines testimonies
One of Kristin Smart’s friends, Margarita Campos, dropped Smart off at a birthday party on May 24, 1996, the last time she saw her. A witness at the party allegedly saw a man flirting with Smart and Paul attempting to kiss her.
Around 10:30 p.m., Smart was sober, according to Campos. Around midnight, she was face down outside the party, drunk and unable to walk on her own.
Tim Davis and Cheryl Anderson both saw Smart and helped her get to her dorm. Paul Flores approached them and offered to accompany him to the end.
Crystal Calvin, a friend of Smart’s roommate, was staying in their Santa Lucia dorm that night. She reported that Smart never returned and her things were left behind. Peuvrelle said Calvin was in the bedroom that night except around 2 a.m. when she went out to have a cigarette with a friend.
Still, Sanger said Calvin was so drunk it’s possible she didn’t notice Smart going back to the dorm and then leaving.
Days later, after authorities were notified of his absence, Paul Flores was questioned by San Luis Obispo police. Peuvrelle gave the jury examples of Flores changing her story throughout her interrogation.
He told police he dropped Smart off at his dorm. He later said “we went back to my dorm,” Peuvrelle told the jury.
In the days following Smart’s disappearance, Paul Flores had a bruise under his eye. He said once it was because he was playing basketball, then another time it was because he was working on his truck. In a video that Peuvrelle played during the trial, investigators pointed out Flores’ lies, to which he replied that they were only “little lies”.
The defense argued there were attempts to get Paul Flores to admit wrongdoing, but he stuck to his story.
In the meantime, the prosecution presented several examples of suspicions raised by the Flores family.
SLO local Jennifer Hudson said she overheard Paul Flores admitting to burying Smart near the apartment on the Huasna campus. Sanger debunked the testimony by saying Hudson didn’t tell a friend he heard it until 2002 and didn’t tell police about it until 2019. Sanger said Paul Flores should have moved his body from Huasna to his father’s house, then back again.
Around 2003, Paul Flores’ girlfriend was heading to the patio at the back of the Flores’ house when Paul and Ruben Flores told her she was not allowed to return there. The father has always been “protective” of the bridge area, Peuvrelle said.
On one occasion, a witness at Ruben Flores overheard him calling Smart a “dirty bitch”.
In 2020, a recorded phone call revealed that Susan Flores told Paul Flores to listen to the podcast and “poke holes” in it. His mother was presumably referring to Chris Lambert’s “Your Own Backyard” podcast, which prosecutors say helped uncover evidence and witnesses and bring the case to trial.
Paul Flores remained silent on the phone.
Opening statements discuss allegations that Paul Flores drugged and raped women after Kristin Smart’s disappearance
Three women said Paul Flores drugged and raped them, in 2007, 2008 and 2011.
A woman said she saw Paul Flores in a bar in 2007, got drunk, then woke up in a random house, naked. A DNA swab from her vagina tested positive with Paul Flores. In 2008, Flores brought a woman home from a bar. She then remembered sobbing and being raped by him, with a red ball gag in her mouth. A third woman Flores met was in a bar when her memory blurred, but she remembers being gagged in the same way.
Sanger told the jury that Paul Flores’ character and alleged rape history of other women do not count as evidence for this trial.
Defense claims Kristin Smart engaged in ‘risky behavior’
In Sanger’s opening statement on Monday, he said the case was “tragic.” Still, he told the jury that Smart had a history of “risky behavior”, saying she had lied about being a model and dated men in the past. This comment received an objection from the prosecution, but the judge upheld it.
Sanger said Smart failed and “told people” she wanted to be a model, which was dismissed as hearsay by the judge.
The defense argued that a “public media campaign” led to Paul and Ruben Flores being harassed by different people, and that a detective gave a podcaster access to information only to say “something provocative things”.
“I’m going to ask you to find Paul Flores not guilty,” Sanger said at the end of his speech.
The trial will resume at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, beginning with an opening statement from Ruben’s attorney, Harold Mesick.
The trial is expected to last until October.