Editor’s note: The Kristin Smart trial will be covered daily by Mustang News. To stay updated, follow @CPMustangNews on Twitter and Instagram.
The trial of Paul and Ruben Flores began Monday by introducing the jury to the history of Kristin Smart’s disappearance 26 years ago — and what investigations have uncovered since.
Arrested in April 2021, Paul Flores, 45, is being charged with the 1996 murder of Kristin Smart. His father, 81-year-old Ruben Flores is charged with accessory to the murder after the fact. Smart and Paul Flores were both Cal Poly freshmen when he told their peers he’d walk her home from an off-campus party Memorial Day weekend. Smart was reported missing soon after.
Paul and Ruben Flores will have separate juries and verdicts in this trial. The trial is being held at Monterey County Superior Court, with Judge Jennifer O’Keefe presiding.
San Luis Obispo Deputy District Attorney Chris Peurvrelle represents the prosecution in the People v. Flores case. In his opening statement to the jury, Peuvrelle discussed Kristin Smart’s life around the time of her disappearance.
Every Sunday, Smart would call her parents to update them on her life at college. 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 underneath the deck of Ruben Flores’ home, and witness statements regarding the Flores Family’s words and actions after Smart’s disappearance.
Paul Flores’ defense attorney Robert Sanger’s opening statement responded to what he called the “sort-of evidence” that has been presented in the case. Sanger described Kristin Smart as someone who engaged in “at-risk behavior,” and said Paul Flores has stuck to his story despite attempts made by officials and a public media campaign to get Flores to admit to wrongdoing.
Prosecution and defense address forensic evidence
The prosecution said blood samples were collected from both Paul Flores’ dorm mattress and soil tests from the Flores house.
At the end of June 1996, four cadaver dogs all alerted officers of a brown stain at the corner of the mattress in Flores’ dorm — the “strongest” alert one of the dogs ever made. Sanger said the people searching the dorm 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 test for blood, the criminalist involved in the case opted for a DNA test, which showed Smart could not have been either included or excluded from the DNA sample.
In a 2020 search of Ruben Flores’ home, officials found missing posters and letters that the Smart family had sent, begging for help.
Five days after the search, one of Ruben’s neighbors saw Paul’s mother, Susan Flores, and her boyfriend trying to back in a cargo trailer to his house, with the back of the trailer facing the deck. A chemical test on the trailer detected a potential blood stain. Though it tested negative for human blood, Peuvrelle argued bleach and chlorine can cause a false negative, and it was the only clean part of the trailer.
In 2021, a soil test showed a “human-sized decomposition stain” 3-4 feet down in the soil, along with evidence that something was put in the soil and was dug up later. Twelve out of 36 soil samples tested positive for human blood, though tests can appear positive for ferrets and monkeys, too. The house’s contractor reported he did not find bodily remains in the land before building the house.
Cadaver dogs at the house didn’t show interest in the property besides the spot under the deck, where they exhibited a “change in behavior,” Peuvrelle said.
Sanger argued it can’t be concluded from the soil sample that Smart was buried there. And since the archeologist who found the evidence had gotten their master’s and not a PhD, they were “not an expert on the decomposition of bodies,” but sounded “like a fun guy.”
“If you had a burial in a place like that, you’d find bones, hairs, biological activity in the soil,” Sanger said.
Prosecution gives overview of witness 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 reportedly saw one 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 on the ground outside of the party, drunk and unable to walk by herself.
Tim Davis and Cheryl Anderson both saw Smart and helped get her part-way to her dorm. Paul Flores approached them and offered to take her the rest of the way.
Crystal Calvin, a friend of Smart’s roommate, was staying in their Santa Lucia dorm room that night. She reported Smart never returned, and her belongings were left behind. Peuvrelle said Calvin was in the room that night, except for around 2 a.m., when she stepped outside to smoke a cigarette with a friend.
Yet Sanger said Calvin was so drunk that it’s possible she could have not noticed Smart returning to the dorm, then leaving again.
A few days later after authorities were notified of her absence, Paul Flores was questioned by San Luis Obispo Police. Peuvrelle gave the jury examples of Flores changing his story throughout his questioning.
He told police he dropped Smart off at her dorm. Later, he said “we got back to my dorm,” Peuvrelle told the jury.
In the days after Smart’s disappearance, Paul Flores had a bruise under his eye. He once said it was from playing basketball, then another time said it was from working on his truck. In a video Peuvrelle played in the trial, investigators pointed out Flores’ lies, to which he responded that they’re just “little white lies.”
The defense maintained that there have been attempts to set up Paul Flores to admit to wrongdoing, but he stayed to his story.
Meanwhile, the prosecution laid out several examples of suspicion raised by the Flores family.
One SLO local, Jennifer Hudson, said she heard Paul Flores admit to burying Smart near the Huasna on-campus apartment. Sanger debunked the testimony by saying Hudson didn’t tell a friend about hearing this until 2002, and didn’t tell police until 2019. Sanger said Paul Flores would have had to move her body from Huasna to his father’s house, then out again.
Around 2003, Paul Flores’ girlfriend was walking over to the deck at the back of the Flores’ house when both Paul and Ruben Flores told her she wasn’t allowed back there. The father has always been “protective” of the deck area, Peuvrelle said.
On one occasion, a witness at Ruben Flores’ house heard him refer to Smart as a “dirty slut.”
In 2020, a recorded phone call revealed Susan Flores telling Paul Flores to listen to the podcast and “poke holes” in it. His mother was presumably referring to the “Your Own Backyard” podcast by Chris Lambert, which prosecutors say helped reveal evidence and witnesses and get the case to trial.
Paul Flores remained silent on the phone.
Opening statements discuss allegations of Paul Flores drugging and raping women after Kristin Smart’s disappearance
Three women have said Paul Flores drugged and raped them, in 2007, 2008 and 2011.
One woman said she saw Paul Flores at a bar in 2007, became drunk, then woke up in a random house, naked. A DNA swab from her vagina tested positive with Paul Flores. In 2008, Flores gave a woman a ride 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 encountered was at a bar when her memory went fuzzy, but she recalled being gagged in the same way.
Sanger told the jury that Paul Flores’ character and history of allegedly raping other women does not count as evidence for this trial.
Defense says Kristin Smart engaged in “at-risk behavior”
In Sanger’s opening statement on Monday, he said the case was “tragic.” Yet he told the jury Smart had a history of “at-risk behavior,” claiming she had lied about being a model and had gone off with men in the past. This comment received an objection by the prosecution, but the judge sustained.
Sanger said that Smart was flunking out and had “told people” she wanted to be a model, which was overruled as hearsay by the judge.
The defense argued that a “public media campaign” led to both Paul and Ruben Flores being harassed by different people, and that a detective gave a podcaster access to information just so he would say “provocative things.”
“I’m gonna ask you to find Paul Flores not guilty,” Sanger said at the end of his speech.
The trial will resume Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., beginning with an opening statement from Ruben’s attorney, Harold Mesick.
The trial is expected to last through October.