Margarita Campos, a college friend of Kristin Smart, was one of three former students to testify in the People v. Flores murder trial on Monday. She said the moment she and Smart parted ways the night she went missing was a “memory that replayed over in my head many times.”
“You know, hindsight is 20/20,” Campos said. “I shouldn’t have left her by herself, and she shouldn’t have left me by myself.”
On Saturday, May 25, 1996, Campos waited all day for Smart to return. When she knocked on Smart’s door, no one responded. Campos said it was unlike Smart to not return or withhold where she was going.
“I never saw her again,” Campos said, pulling out a tissue as she testified. “She was supposed to come home.”
Now, former Cal Poly student Paul Flores is on trial for Smart’s murder, and his father, Ruben Flores, with accessory to the crime. Their trials began last week and are expected to continue into October.
Smart moved into Muir Hall a few months after the start of fall quarter her freshman year, in January 1996. By late March or April, she and a group of friends including Campos would hang out in each others’ dorms.
During the Memorial Day holiday weekend, most of the residents in Muir Hall were out of town. Campos said that it was so quiet you could “hear footsteps.”
Smart, Campos and a handful of other girls in Muir hall left the campus around 5:00 p.m. to attend a mellow party in a residential neighborhood. The group did not drink any alcohol beforehand.
“It was not a raging party,” just a couple people hanging out playing video games, Campos said. They stayed at the party for one to three hours and had about one beer each – eventually leaving because the party was not very fun and consisted mostly of older students they didn’t know.
After 10 p.m., the group dropped Campos and Smart off at the intersection of California and Foothill Boulevard. Smart wanted to take a different route she had walked before, hoping to find parties along the way.
“I wanna go home too, but I wanna go home this way,” Campos said, recalling Smart’s stubbornness and assertiveness.
Campos matched that “stubbornness and assertiveness,” frustrated. After their disagreement, Campos gave Smart her key and watched her walk away “confidently.”
Defense attorney Robert Sanger asked Campos repeatedly about Smart’s intoxication level the night she disappeared. Two objections resulted from Sanger’s comments that Smart “had a tendency to get intoxicated” and liked to pretend to be drunk for “attention.”
“She was not under the influence at all,” Campos said.
The two did not drink after the first beer and were sober by the time they arrived at the intersection. The beer they drank was canned and they both opened it themselves, Campos said.
By Sunday, Smart’s roommate, Crystal Calvin, returned to her dorm. Campos was able to enter their room, noticing all of Smart’s belongings were untouched. Her red backpack was left in her room, which was very much out of character according to Campos. Campos said she didn’t ever see Smart leave her red backpack in the room before this moment.
“The things that you would imagine you would take to go to the library, to go get food… that was all there,” Campos said. “It was very real to me that she hadn’t been home.”
The day after Smart’s disappearance, Campos’ mind was “spinning” as she was looking for any sign of her missing friend.
Giving feedback, interviewing and providing details when possible, Campos hoped to contribute to the search for Smart. Despite her efforts, Campos said she did not find anything that would give her any sort of clue as to her friend’s whereabouts.
In 1999, Campos interviewed with authorities and reported an “incident” at a campus grocery store, where Paul Flores was “staring at both of us,” her and Smart.
Campos said Flores worked at the campus store and stood out to her due to his staring, which, during at least one instance, was also directed at Campos herself. Campos and Smart hadn’t gotten close until a month or two before she went missing, so the incident likely was not too long before her disappearance.
Campos was featured on the “Your Own Backyard” podcast by Chris Lambert in 2019.
“[Lambert’s] orientation is to see that Paul Flores is convicted, correct?” Sanger asked Campos. “It’s not an unbiased news source, is it?”
Both of these questions were objected by the prosecution and sustained. Sanger has asked witnesses multiple times about the objective of Chris Lambert’s podcast.
Kristin Smart’s friend reports disappearance to campus police
According to Campos, Cal Poly Police said they had to wait more than 24 hours to file a missing person’s report since Smart was over 18 years old. The delay frustrated Campos, as it had already been 24 hours at the point she went to police and was told this.
Campos had told a Cal Poly Police detective that she received a phone call of a woman mumbling, around 2 to 3 a.m. on Saturday the night Smart disappeared. She received two other calls that hung up.
Campos told the police she believed it was Smart because she had received late-hour calls from her in the past. In cross examination, Campus maintained the caller “was not Kristin Smart.”
While she didn’t fully believe it herself, Campos did not openly share her doubt with the police.
“I didn’t really believe it,” Campos said. “I was hoping.”
Campos didn’t sleep for 48 hours after Kristin was missing, now linking the supposed signs of Kristin to her lack of sleep.
“I wanted to hear from Kristin,” Campos said. “But I can tell you that I never spoke to Kristin again after that night.”
Campos said her testimony is not focused on Paul Flores, but rather on raising awareness on Kristin’s disappearance and letting women know that someone will believe them if they come forward.
“For me, I wanna find my friend,” Campos said. “I wanna know where she is. I know she’s no longer alive.”
‘Commotion’ of Smart’s fall at Crandall house, as told by witness
Former Cal Poly student Ross Ketchum met Smart for the first time at an off-campus party on Crandall Way the night she disappeared.
Within the first hour of the party, Ketchum and Smart talked about surfing and seeing each other at school occasionally. As the two talked, Ketchum testified that he noticed “[Paul Flores] was kinda looking at her.”
Ketchum said that the party was a “shoulder-to-shoulder” party, with about 60 to 70 people filtering in and out of the house.
Ketchum said Flores and Smart were “hanging out together towards the back of the room” and Flores had his arm around her.
Later that evening, Ketchum recalled “a lot of commotion” from Smart falling down; everyone around her seemed to help her on her feet. It was unclear why Smart fell, Ketchum said.
After everyone had dispersed, Ketchum remembers that Flores put his arm around Smart again.
Sanger questioned whether Ketchum originally told a detective that Flores had his arm around Smart, or whether he was just “hanging by her.” The prosecution presented a transcript of the interview that confirmed Ketchum was consistent in saying Flores put his arm around Smart.
Ketchum does not remember Smart having a drink when she fell, though she and Ketchum were drinking together previously. Ketchum said he and his roommate ended up walking home together.
Defense attorney Harold Mesick asked if Smart and Ketchum were “blasted,” at the party, which Ketchum denied. Mesick asked if Smart had a “little too much to drink.” Ketchum agreed, but said he was not sure what exactly Kristin was drinking.
He said he doesn’t remember seeing Smart after leaving the party with his roommate.
Former student recounts being the last one to see Flores and Smart together
Cheryl Manzer, formerly Cheryl Anderson, was a freshman who lived in Sierra Madre Residence Hall and also attended the party. She arrived between 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. and stayed approximately until 2:30 a.m. when the party was “breaking up.”
At the party, Manzer said Flores put his arm around her, too.
“No, it wasn’t welcome,” Manzer said of whether it was consensual or not.
When leaving the party, Manzer’s friends had already gone so she walked home with another friend there, Tim Davis, who offered to walk her home.
Once outside the party, Davis saw Smart lying down and helped her up. Davis, Manzer and Smart walked home together, Manzer said. She recalled Smart appeared “very intoxicated” — she needed help standing and walking, and her speech was slurred.
“Paul appeared sort of suddenly and said he was going to walk with us,” Manzer said. “Out of nowhere.”
Manzer said Davis was helping Smart walk before Flores “volunteered himself” to hold up Smart, keeping her upright as “she was wobbly and stumbling.” She didn’t recall Smart sobering up during their walk at all.
The four of them walked until Manzer told Davis he should go home, since he lived in the other direction. They were about a third into the walk, or less, Manzer said.
According to a 1996 DA’s Office interview transcript, Manzer said that the three of them took three stops with Smart leaning on Flores for support. Manzer said Flores hugged Smart on multiple occasions during their walk back. At every stop, Paul reportedly told Manzer to walk home ahead of them and that he would take Smart home.
Manzer said she wasn’t necessarily “comfortable” walking home with Flores, but her goal was to not walk home alone. Manzer didn’t remember if Flores asked her where Smart lived.
Sanger asked if Paul was touching Kristin in an inappropriate manner. Citing the Hobson transcription to corroborate the testimonies, Manzer agreed that at the time she thought Paul’s contact with Kristin “wasn’t unusual.”
Sanger asked to confirm if Smart was “dressed in a rather limited fashion” — one of several questions about what Smart and Manzer were wearing. Defense attorneys Sanger and Mesick referenced the cold weather, but one of these questions was still objected to and sustained by Judge Jennifer O’Keefe. Sanger asked if Flores was rubbing his hands on Smart to warm her up, but Manzer said she did not remember.
Once the three of them reached the intersection between Perimeter and Grand Avenue, Manzer asked Flores if he would get Kristin back to her dorm safely, to which he said he would.
However, before parting ways, Paul asked Manzer for a kiss, then a hug — both of which she rejected either with a handshake or by simply walking away, she said she wasn’t too sure.
“I did not look back,” Manzer said.
Manzer said she turned to the right of Grand, where her dorm was. The last time she saw Smart was walking east towards Perimeter Avenue on that intersection.
Mesick pointed out that one could “hit [Muir Hall] with a football” from the intersection where they parted ways, saying it was only about 300 feet away from where Smart lived. Manzer responded that the intersection was not home.
Mesick asked Manzer if she “felt it was safe” for Flores to assist Smart to her dorm room.
“I didn’t think anything horrible was going to happen,” Manzer responded.
Kristin Smart’s sister testifies
After Kristin Smart’s mother, father and brother all testifying last week, her sister, Lindsey Smart-Stewart, was called to the witness stand in the beginning of Monday’s hearing.
Lindsey described the family as “very, very close,” and said the family would communicate often. It was noticeable that Kristin missed different accomplishments, including Lindsey’s eighth grade graduation. Lindsey said it was a “massive milestone” the family had celebrated shortly after Kristin went missing in 1996.
During every Memorial Day weekend, Lindsey would have a swim meet. On that 1996 Memorial weekend, Kristin left a voicemail, “excited and wanted to check in.”
“She was a mini-mother to me,” Lindsey said. “She would light up when she’d see me.”
The trial is expected to resume Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.