Paul Flores (left) appears in court on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022 for closing statements. Defense attorney Robert Sanger (right) concluded his closing argument on Tuesday, prompting jury deliberations for Paul Flores' verdict. Credit: Laura Dickinson | SLO Tribune

Editor’s note: The People v. Flores murder trial is covered each day by Mustang News. Follow @CPMustangNews on Twitter and Instagram for more updates. Read previous articles about the trial here.

Paul Flores’ jury is now in verdict deliberations after closing arguments concluded Tuesday afternoon. 

Closing statements will be presented to Ruben Flores’ jury on Wednesday. 

Paul Flores’ jury was dismissed from the courtroom on Tuesday just before 3 p.m. to begin their deliberations. 

“It is essential under our Constitution that you decide this case based solely on the evidence presented during the trial,” Judge Jennifer O’Keefe told the jury before dismissing them.

Shortly after, O’Keefe read Ruben Flores’ jury the same instructions that she read to Paul Flores’ jury on Monday before closing statements began. 

Since the conclusion of the presentation of evidence in the case, 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 cases.

Defense attorney Robert Sanger concludes his closing argument

On Tuesday, Paul Flores’ attorney, Robert Sanger, resumed his closing from Monday afternoon in front of his jury. 

He began by addressing a statement he made on Monday about Adella Morris, a Human Remains Detection dog handler who testified earlier in the trial.

During her testimony, Morris said that her dogs “alerted” to Paul Flores’ mattress in his dorm in Santa Lucia Hall in 1996. This indicated that they had located and identified their “target scent” of human remains, as she explained.

On Monday, Sanger told the jury that Morris said her dogs “could alert on vomit,” calling her testimony into question. He corrected this on Tuesday by clarifying that Morris did not testify to that statement, but instead said that she didn’t recall specifically training her dogs not to alert on vomit.

“We may or may not be right about things we say,” Sanger said about the attorneys during closing arguments. 

One of prosecutor Christopher Peuvrelle’s last points during his closing argument on Monday was revisiting testimonies from two women, assigned the names Rhonda Doe and Sarah Doe by the court, who testified that Paul Flores raped them in 2008 and 2011, respectively. 

“You can conclude that Paul Flores was disposed or inclined to commit sexual offenses, and based on that decision, also conclude that Paul Flores was likely to commit and did commit rape or attemted rape,” Peuvrelle told the jury on Monday.

Sanger addressed this on Tuesday, telling the jury that they cannot consider rape testimonies as evidence during deliberations unless the prosecution has proved the fact that a rape “really happened.”

“Mr. Peuvrelle used [these testimonies] to just say, as many times as he could, ‘Paul Flores is a rapist,’” Sanger said. “You can’t consider it unless there’s proof of a rape, alright?”

He then questioned the validity of the testimony from the two victims, noting specifically that Rhonda Doe went to Cal Poly in 1996, which he said was “too much of a coincidence.”

Both defense attorneys have argued multiple times throughout the trial that many people have targeted their clients as a result of the negative media attention they have received because of this case. 

On Tuesday, Sanger summarized his understanding of Rhonda Doe deciding to come forward with her testimony as, “He was just arrested, so I thought I’d come forward and tell you.” 

Sanger continued questioning the testimony from both Rhonda and Sarah Doe by saying that they were both “exposed to the media,” potentially affecting their recollection that the person who raped them was Paul Flores.

“Where did they get their information? Did it really happen?” Sanger posed to the jury.

Sanger then specifically addressed Sarah Doe, who he referred to as “a more sympathetic sort of a witness.” 

“And you go: ‘Oh my God,’ and you start to buy into this thing — ‘Well, Paul Flores is a rapist,’” Sanger said. “Is that true?” 

Sanger said that Sarah Doe “didn’t do anything until nine years [after the rape], when this case is brought to trial” and told the jury that the prosecution brought her to testify to make Paul Flores look like a rapist.

“Even if you believed that [Paul Flores raped Rhonda and Sarah Doe], you still can’t use it in this case because there’s no proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Paul Flores raped or attempted to rape Kristin Smart,” Sanger said. “There just isn’t.”

Sanger then told the jury that “there’s no evidence of a murder” in this case, suggesting at one point that “[Smart] could’ve gone off and decided she wanted a different life… There are those cases when that happened.”

“It’s probable that something happened to her that was unfortunate,” Sanger said. “But what was it?”

Sanger also told the jury that they “have to look at the credibility of the witness,” naming various witnesses that have testified on behalf of the prosecution (namely Vanessa Shields, Margarita Campos, Crystal Teschendorf and Steve Flemming) that he believes could have been influenced by negative media attention surrounding the defendant. 

During Steve Fleming’s testimony on Aug. 2, he told Sanger that he didn’t come forward with his information for three years — that he saw Paul Flores and Smart in her dorm and that she looked “uncomfortable” — because he was afraid of the police.

“I understand… there’s all sorts of issues with regards to police officers and people of color,” Sanger said on Tuesday, paraphrasing Fleming’s statement during his testimony as: “‘Look at me! I’m Black! I’m scared of police!’”

“Except he wasn’t scared of police,” Sanger said. “[Fleming] “asked the FBI agent [who interviewed him] to help him get a job as an FBI agent.”

Sanger also said that Paul Flores was “consistent” and “polite” when dealing with law enforcement throughout the case. He specifically noted an interview that Peuvrelle showed to the jury on Monday, where Sanger said that officers “really tried to push [Paul Flores]” into a confession, which he never gave.

“Cal Poly Police clearly blew it — think Mr. Peuvrelle and I agree on that,” Sanger said, referencing how campus police waited four days before acting on the original call that Smart had gone missing.

Sanger then addressed the “so-called forensic evidence” presented by the prosecution, which the jury has heard testimony about for the last couple of weeks. Sanger said the prosecution is asking the jury to “speculate.” 

Sanger told the jury that the archeologists who testified that the soil under Ruben Flores’ deck had been dug out and re-deposited had “no real experience” working in grave sites, although he noted that they “got more cases” after this one.

“If you get publicity, you get somewhere, I suppose,” Sanger said.

The archeologists testified that they found an “anomaly” under the deck — a disturbance in the soil that “fit the exact dimensions for [Smart’s] body and for the fact that it was a grave,” according to Peuvrelle’s statement on Monday.

Sanger argued on Tuesday that this “anomaly” was actually the result of construction around the house, noting that the disturbance inside the soil was next to one of the walls of the property.

He also addressed forensic testimony from Angela Butler, a forensic analyst who tested samples from the soil under Ruben Flores’ deck using a HemDirect test.

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.  

On Tuesday, Sanger said that Butler was “definitely not a chemist” and that she had “no real knowledge of HemDirect,” telling the jury that “the HemDirect doesn’t mean anything.”

“One of the problems we have is junk science coming into the courtroom,” Sanger said. “It’s gotta be real science, it’s gotta prove something.”

Sanger specifically noted that “there is no validation study for the use of HemDirect in soils,” which has been one of the defense’s main points of contention when addressing the samples and which was supported by one of the defense’s witnesses, Elizabeth Johnson.

“There’s no proof beyond a reasonable doubt… there’s not even a likelihood that this is blood,” Sanger said.

Before ending his closing statement, Sanger thanked the jury for the attention and the time they have spent on this case, telling them that it’s the evidence — “or the lack of the evidence” — which should guide their decision. 

“I respectfully submit that the only proper verdict in this case is ‘not guilty,’ thank you,” Sanger concluded.

Sanger’s closing statement lasted almost six hours total. 

Prosecutor Christopher Peuvrelle refutes Sanger’s closing statement

Peuvrelle began his rebuttal to Sanger’s closing statement by addressing one of the first points that Sanger presented to the jury during his closing statement on Monday: that Peuvrelle had presented the jury with “conspiracy theories” in lieu of evidence for the case.

“What [Peuvrelle] said was basically a bunch of conspiracy theories that aren’t really supported by facts,” Sanger said on Monday in response to Peuvrelle’s closing statement, later adding that “conspiracy theories are fun.”

On Tuesday, Peuvrelle called this statement “ridiculous.”

“[Sanger] would have you believe that… 50-something witnesses… are involved in a grand conspiracy to convict Paul Flores,” Peuvrelle said on Tuesday, later adding that “[Sanger] has presented you [the jury] with a binary choice.”

The choice in question, as Peuvrelle described, was believing that Paul Flores was guilty of first degree murder or that every witness that has testfied on behalf of the prosecution has been involved in a “grand conspiracy” against the defendant.   

Peuvrelle referred specifically to Sanger’s characterizations that “conspiracy theories are fun” and asked the jury if any witnesses “looked like they were having fun,” specifically addressing Rhonda and Sarah Doe, Steve Fleming, Margarita Campos and Jennifer Phipps.

“Did it look like anybody was having fun? No. because this is not a fun case,” Peuvrelle said. “I apologize — for you have seen things in this case that no human being should see.”

Peuvrelle also referred specifically to Sanger’s suggestion that Smart could have “gone off and decided she wanted a different life,” calling it “absurd” and telling the jury that Smart would have had to “magically regain her faculties… and somehow decided to leave her cherished siblings [and] her parents.”

“Paul Flores is a serial drugger in addition to a serial rapist,” Peuvrelle said, maintaining the prosecution’s theory that Paul Flores raped and murdered Kristin Smart.

“What else was he gonna do with her? Just sit there and stare at her?” Peuvrelle posed to the jury later.

Peuvrelle also addressed Sanger’s point about Smart engaging in “at-risk behavior” around the time she disappeared.

“Sure, pick on the girl who’s dead and can’t defend herself,” Peuvrelle said. “The only at-risk behavior of Kristin was existing in the same zip code as Paul Flores.”

Peuvrelle also clarified testimony from Cindy Arrington, the archeologist who supervised the digs at Ruben Flores’ property, by saying that Arrington testified that the hole in the ground was dug “by hand.” This directly contradicted Sanger’s suggestion that the hole was made by the construction of the wall next to the dig.

Peuvrelle noted that the only witness who said the HemDirect test was “invalid” for use on soil samples was Johnson, who was called to testify by the defense.

“She’s not an expert for this specific test,” Peuvrelle said, noting that Johnson hadn’t worked at an accredited lab since 1997 and that “she’s getting paid 2000 a day [for testimony]; it’s not about the truth.”

Peuvrelle reminded the jury of previous witness testimony from witnesses who testified on behalf of the prosecution that confirmed that the samples tested positive for human blood.

“It is 100%, beyond any doubt, human blood,” Peuvrelle said.

After going through the evidence that the prosecution has presented in the case, Peuvrelle asked the jury to find Paul Flores guilty of murder in the first degree.

“If that’s not enough, then what you seek is perfection — which does not exist,” Peuvrelle said.

Closing statements for Ruben Flores began Wednesday morning.