Last month, Paul and Ruben Flores were arrested for their connection to the 1996 disappearance of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart. District Attorney Dan Dow charged Paul Flores with first degree murder and Ruben Flores with accessory after the fact. Court proceedings have already begun.
Each lawyer in this case has an extensive background in criminal law and murder trials. Below are cases each lawyer has worked on, detailing their style and possible strategies for this case that’s almost a quarter century in the making.
Defense attorney Robert Sanger, who is representing the Paul Flores, helped achieve a not-guilty verdict for Michael Jackson in the 2005 molestation case.
Sanger declined a request for an interview about his past legal work.
Sanger is a certified criminal law specialist and a senior partner at Sanger, Swysen, and Dunkle in Santa Maria. He received his juris doctorate from University of California, Los Angeles School of Law in 1973 and was later certified by the state bar.
Sanger’s firm represented Jackson over the course of numerous civil suits involving alleged sexual abuse.
In 1993, a 13-year-old boy accused Jackson of sexual abuse. Sanger, alongside co-counsel Steve Cochran, settled the civil suit out of court for more than $20 million. All charges were dropped after the alleged victim declined to cooperate, and the grand jury did not return its indictments against Jackson.
According to Sanger’s website, the civil case involving Jackson’s “disgruntled maid” and security guards resulted in an overwhelming victory for Jackson, with around $1.4 million charged against the plaintiffs.
The most notable case involved the 2003 accusation from a teenage boy, who said Jackson molested him on his Neverland Valley Ranch in Santa Barbara County. The boy’s prosecutors said that Jackson, who faced 18 years in prison, gave the boy alcohol in order to abuse him and later conspired to restrict his freedom by keeping the boy and his mother away from the media.
Sanger argued these claims appeared staged, that the boy was coached by his mother on what to say and that the family’s claims were not that credible.
After a four-month trial, the jury declared Jackson not guilty on all charges. After Jackson died of cardiac arrest in 2009, Sanger’s firm issued a statement saying Sanger and Jackson were friends and that “we will miss him.”
Other notable cases Sanger has worked on in San Luis Obispo do not include celebrities like Jackson.
In 2019, Sanger represented Nikki Anaya and Brianna Morales who were facing felony charges for human trafficking of a minor for sex. Anaya, 16 at the time, allegedly prostituted his 15-year-old girlfriend to about 20 men over a six-day timeline in July of 2015.
Working as defense representation, Sanger got the human trafficking charges dropped for Anaya and Morales. Instead, they took a guilty plea for a kidnapping charge and were sentenced to a year in the county jail.
Harold Mesick works in San Luis Obispo County as a criminal and civil attorney. He is representing Ruben Flores.
Mesick formerly worked as a firefighter in Davis, Calif. and for the U.S. Army’s Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, Calif. Mesick was admitted to the California State Bar in 2003 after graduating from University of Northern California’s Lorenzo Patiño School of Law.
Mesick worked on the 2013 Dystiny Myers case, representing Jason Adam Greenwell from Nipomo. In this case, Greenwell and four others were allegedly part of a methamphetamine ring and were charged with the murder of 15-year-old Santa Maria girl Dystiny Myers. In September of 2010, Myers was found beaten and burned in a field in Santa Margarita.
Greenwell, who was described as “remorseful,” testified against the other defendants under the advice of Mesick. The four others were convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole, while Greenwell was sentenced to 15 years in state prison.
Mesick also represented Crystal Lynn Garner in 2014, one of several defendants who allegedly commissioned the 2012 assault of Victor Hugo Sanchez. Sanchez was killed in front of his apartment four months after the initial assault.
Garner met Sanchez at Pappy McGregor’s Bar & Grill in San Luis Obispo after texting him about wanting to hook up. The two left together, with Garner driving and pulling over on the side of the road on the way home, leading a second car to pull in behind them. A man emerged from this car and hit Sanchez with a pipe wrench, breaking his arm and nose.
Others involved in the case agreed to plea bargains which sentenced them to varying years in prison. Under Mesick’s guidance, Garner pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit robbery and battery, and agreed to receive a four-year sentence.
Mesick said Garner was “remorseful” and “took responsibility” for her involvement. He also said she was under the influence of methamphetamines and she would not have been involved in the assault if she had been sober.
Christopher Peuvrelle will be prosecuting Paul Flores in the alleged murder of Smart. He has more than 15 years of experience working as a prosecutor and multiple conviction wins under his belt. Peuvrelle is also leading the prosecution in the ongoing murder cases of two other local women, Nancy Woodrum and Jeanine Vore. In both of these cases, remains have been found and men are the suspects.
Peuvrelle completed his undergraduate degree at University of California, San Diego, earned his law degree from Santa Clara School of Law and began his work as a prosecutor in the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office in 2006. He has worked in the San Luis Obispo District Attorney’s office since 2017 and District Attorney Dan Dow turned the Smart case over to him.
He has been described as “fair and highly competent” by previous defense attorneys working opposite him in past cases.
Peuvrelle prosecuted Roberto Gallardo Aguilar in 2012, arguing that Aguilar murdered his wife, Sharon Elizabeth Contreras. Aguilar allegedly killed Contreras and took her remains to a deserted area to be burned. Witnesses noticed a small fire near Lake Elsinore and Contreras’ remains were soon found. Peuvrelle noted in his argument the couple was in the middle of getting a divorce when she was murdered.
Aguilar was soon convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 61 years to life in prison.
In 2018, Peuvrelle prosecuted Charles Chad Giese, who was convicted of killing his roommate Walter Ernest Vallivero with a beer bottle and baseball bat, leaving him bloodied to the point of being unrecognizable.
Giese claimed he was acting in self-defense, saying Vallivero was drunk and violent. At the time, Vallivero’s body had a BAC of 0.19. However, the jury found Giese guilty of first-degree premeditated murder and sentenced him to 26 years to life in prison.
Illan Funke-Bilu, Giese’s lawyer, called Peuvrelle “one of the most adept prosecutors I’ve ever had the pleasure of working against,” as reported in The San Luis Obispo Tribune.