Closing statements for the trial of Ruben Flores took place on Wednesday — marking the last time that either jury will be in the courtroom before the verdicts in the Kristin Smart murder case are announced.
Cal Poly freshman Kristin Smart went missing in 1996. Paul Flores, also a freshman at the time, was the last person to be seen with Smart when he said he would walk her to her dorm from an off-campus party. Twenty-six years later, the prosecution is asking the jury to find Paul Flores guilty of first degree murder, theorizing that he killed her during commission of rape. His father, Ruben Flores, is accused of helping to bury Smart’s body in his backyard.
Wednesday’s proceedings consisted of prosecutor Christopher Peuvrelle and Ruben Flores’ attorney, Harold Mesick, giving closing statements to Ruben Flores’ jury. After Mesick concluded his statement, Peuvrelle offered his rebuttal statement.
Ruben Flores’ jury was dismissed around 2 p.m. to begin their deliberations.
This comes after Peuvrelle and Paul Flores’ attorney, Robert Sanger, presented their closing statements to Paul Flores’ jury on Monday and Tuesday. Peuvrelle offered a rebuttal statement after Sanger finished his closing on Tuesday, as well.
Since the conclusion of the presentation of evidence in the case last week, the juries have not sat in the courtroom at the same time — jury instructions, closing statements, jury deliberations and the verdict readings have been and will be kept separate between the two defendants.
Both juries are now deliberating. After both of them reach a verdict, they will be announced back-to-back outside the presence of the other jury.
“It is not my role to tell you what your verdict should be,” Judge Jennifer O’Keefe told Ruben Flores’ jury before dismissing them. “You must reach your verdict without any consideration of punishment.”
Christopher Peuvrelle, on behalf of the People
On Wednesday, Peuvrelle gave Ruben Flores’ jury a similar closing statement that he gave Paul Flores’ jury two days prior, using the same slide presentation as a structure. Read about his closing statement here.
Peuvrelle slightly altered his closing statement for Ruben Flores’ jury, emphasizing that “Paul Flores knew that his dad would help him no matter what.”
“Paul Flores murdered Kristin Smart, and he and his dad buried her,” Peuvrelle said. “And that’s really what this is about. It boils down to that.”
He also told the jury that they “cannot have sympathy for the fact that somebody at his age is on trial,” noting that “the law here is very simple.” Ruben Flores is 81 years old.
Ruben Flores’ jury, as Peuvrelle explained, will have to find Paul Flores guilty of murder before they can find Ruben Flores guilty of accessory to murder.
Peuvrelle also played an audio clip of Ruben Flores on Wednesday that the jury heard earlier in the trial.
Investigators arrived at Ruben Flores’ home in May 2021 with a search warrant to obtain buccal swabs from the defendant, and Ruben Flores made a statement when he saw that the warrant also authorized buccal swabs from his ex-wife, Susan Flores, and her boyfriend, Mike McConville.
“They haven’t committed no felonies, only me,” Ruben Flores said in the recording, quickly correcting himself and adding, “I mean — I mean — I’m the only one who’s been arrested.”
Peuvrelle called this an “admission” of guilt on Wednesday, telling the jury to consider it as evidence during deliberations.
“Because it is obvious that he committed a felony, and it is obvious that Paul Flores killed Kristin Smart, and it is obvious that Ruben Flores helped him bury the body,” Peuvrelle said.
He also pointed to phone records retrieved from Paul Flores’ dorm in Santa Lucia Residence Hall from 1996. These records showed that Paul Flores called his father at 9:47 a.m. on May 26, 1996 — a day after the prosecution believes Paul Flores murdered Smart in his dorm room.
“He knew the only person that would help him with a dead girl on his bed was the dad who would do anything for his son,” Peuvrelle said, later adding that “Ruben Flores has been helping [Paul Flores] for the last 26 years.”
On Aug. 29, Detective Clint Cole said that David Stone, who rented a room at Ruben Flores’ home for about 10 years, told him that Ruben Flores “always called” Smart a “dirty slut.”
“He had no idea who Kristin was; she was a complete stranger,” Peuvrelle said on Wednesday, telling the jury that the “sexual connotation” of the slur shows that Ruben Flores knew that “[Smart] was dead on Paul’s mattress.”
“That’s the only reason why he would use that term,” Peuvrelle said.
Peuvrelle also emphasized the “dozens and dozens” of items related to Kristin Smart that investigators found in Ruben Flores’ bedroom, which Peuvrelle referred to as the defendant’s “trophy room.”
“What kind of sick individual keeps an essay contest of Kristin Smart?” Peuvrelle posed to the jury.
Peuvrelle also told the jury about the forensic testimony that the prosecution has presented throughout the case. Read about it and the rest of Peuvrelle’s closing statement here.
At the end of his closing statement, Peuvrelle asked the jury for “accountability” in the form of finding a “truthful verdict… that Ruben Flores is guilty.”
Harold Mesick, on behalf of Ruben Flores
Mesick gave his closing statement on behalf of Ruben Flores after requesting a short break for the jury.
“Well — good morning, welcome back,” Mesick began. “Did you get all your answers?”
Mesick explained to the jury that they “are the finders of fact, the way our system works,” expressing his “love” for the judicial process in criminal cases.
“Our system is the best for other reasons: the presumption of innocence,” Mesick said. “My client is absolutely innocent — hasn’t done a thing.”
Mesick told the jury that “this case screams reasonable doubt,” citing that there was “no persuasive physical evidence” to determine a guilty verdict from.
“What distinguishes this case… is the utter lack of objective physical evidence,” Mesick said.
Mesick went over the events of the party at 135 Crandall Way that Peuvrelle talked about in his closing statement, telling the jury that Paul Flores was doing a “good deed” by helping Smart back up when she fell and by offering to walk her home.
He also said that Paul Flores “wasn’t attracted” to Smart, citing that “she was significantly taller than him.”
Mesick also addressed the prosecution’s theory that Paul Flores raped or attempted to rape Smart that night, calling it “ludicrous” and telling the jury that it “requires you to use your imagination.”
“[The prosecution] can’t just suggest something and have you make it up,” Mesick told them.
Mesick also cited the police wiretaps, the human remains detection dogs, the vigils, the “surveillance” by investigators and the “thousands of dollars” spent on the Smart case, saying that those things yielded “nothing” to prove that Paul Flores murdered Smart in 1996.
He also suggested to the jury that “Kristin Smart may just be missing,” calling it a “reasonable inference.”
“She had a habit of disappearing without telling people,” Mesick said. “She was a free spirit — she only had one real friend at Cal Poly.”
Mesick told the jury that the suggestion “may sound outlandish,” but maintained that it was “a possibility.”
“If you have more questions than answers: reasonable doubt,” Mesick said.
Mesick also explained that Ruben Flores is a father and a husband, describing him as a “kind, generous man” and telling the jury that “he’s not an evil man — no matter how he’s been portrayed.”
“Don’t start your analysis from the perspective that he’s evil,” Mesick said. “Start your analysis from the perspective that he’s innocent.”
Mesick also addressed the phone records specifically, telling the jury that the suggestion that Paul Flores called his father saying he needed help getting rid of a body was “outlandish.”
“Think about it,” Mesick said. “It just makes no sense whatsoever.”
Mesick then talked about the forensic evidence that witnesses have testified throughout the trial.
He began by saying that the “disturbance” in the soil that investigators found under Ruben Flores’ deck was lamellae, an organic structure that sometimes forms naturally in soil. David Carter, a forensic specialist called by the defense, suggested this earlier in the trial.
As Peuvrelle explained during his closing statement, the prosecution’s theory is that the disturbance is the result of Kristin Smart’s body being buried and dug out of the hole at some point.
Mesick also addressed forensic testimony from Angela Butler, a forensic analyst who tested samples from the soil under Ruben Flores’ deck using a HemDirect test.
Earlier in the trial, Butler said that some of the samples yielded positive results using a HemDirect test, while other samples tested negative. As she explained, the HemDirect test detects the hemoglobin present in human blood.
Mesick noted that Butler “couldn’t source the blood” to a person, telling the jury that, if it was blood, “it wasn’t Kristin Smart’s blood.”
“I don’t know if it’s human blood — but they can’t be certain about that,” Mesick said, adding that the HemDirect test was “invalid” because there have been no validation studies to support that the test works on blood samples that have been exposed to soil.
Mesick told the jury they “get to determine what the evidence means.”
Mesick also addressed the items that investigators found in Ruben Flores’ bedroom.
During his closing statement, Peuvrelle had pointed specifically to a document that said “dig the yard.” He told the jury that this was Ruben Flores’ reminder to himself to dig Smart’s body out of his backyard in 2021, just before investigators arrived with a search warrant on the property.
Mesick pointed out that the note was dated to 2015 and said that it was in reference to Susan Flores’ yard, which the family worked on around that time.
He also addressed the audio clip shown to the jury that Peuvrelle called an “admission” of guilt.
“When you’re desperate and you have no real physical evidence… you rely on things like a slip of the tongue,” Mesick said.
He ended his closing statement by reminding the jury again that they are the deciders of the truth in this case and offering his stance on the verdict.
“To me, this case just screams reasonable doubt; it screams total lack of evidence,” Mesick said. “It screams that the state has not met their burden by any stretch of the imagination.”
He ended his closing statement by telling the jury that they had “more than reasonable doubt” to find his client innocent.
“I’d like you to say that this evidence is insufficient for a guilty verdict and we can all go home. Thank you,” Mesick concluded.
Peuvrelle offers rebuttal statement to Mesick’s closing
Peuvrelle began his rebuttal statement by telling the jury that he was “waiting for a reasonable explanation” as to why Ruben Flores “admitted” to committing a crime, referencing the audio clip he played earlier, and said Mesick did not offer that explanation during his closing statement.
He also addressed when Mesick referred to Paul Flores walking Smart home from the party as a “good deed,” saying that “there’s no chivalry in sexual violence.”
Later, Peuvrelle said that Mesick telling the jury that they would have to “use their imagination” to find Ruben Flores guilty of accessory was “absurd.”
“All 50 something witnesses, you would have to be convinced were using their imagination,” Peuvrelle said.
The opinion that the HemDirect test was “invalid” for use on soil samples was originally offered by Elizabeth Johnson, a forensic specialist called by the defense, who cited that there had been no validation studies to prove that the test would be effective under those specific conditions.
Peuvrelle noted on Wednesday that Johnson hadn’t worked at an accredited lab since 1997, telling the jury that Butler, who testified for the prosecution, had used HemDirect on multiple occasions.
“The people who know this test best know: you can take it to the bank,” Peuvrelle said, telling the jury that they should “should reject [Johnson’s] testimony” because she is “not an expert” in the HemDirect test.
Peuvrelle also clarified that Carter said that the disturbance in the soil “could be” lamellae, not that it was.
He added that Carter “never once addresses the significant surface disturbance” and that he only offered a suggestion for the state of the inside the soil. Peuvrelle said that it was the disturbance of the surface which indicated that a hole had been dug out, attributing that information to an archaeologist who testified on behalf of the prosecution.
After briefly mentioning all the evidence that the prosecution has presented in the case, Peuvrelle asked the jury to find Ruben Flores guilty of accessory.
“I’d ask you for a truthful verdict that Ruben Flores is guilty of being an accessory beyond a reasonable doubt,” he told the jury.
Both juries are now deliberating. Judge Jennifer O’Keefe said that neither verdict will be read until both juries have completed deliberations. Press will be given about one hour notice before the first verdict is read.