Editor’s note: The Kristin Smart trial will be covered daily by Mustang News. To stay updated, follow @CPMustangNews on Twitter and Instagram.
After an unexpected two-day delay, the Kristin Smart murder trial resumed Thursday with a statement from Ruben Flores’ defense and testimonies from Smart’s family.
Smart disappeared on May 25, 1996 as a Cal Poly freshman. The trial began Monday for Paul and Ruben Flores, who in April 2021 were arrested for the murder of Smart and accessory to the crime, respectively.
Thursday’s hearing was postponed from Tuesday due to unexpected “health concerns,” according to Monterey County Superior Court officials.
The trial consists of two separate juries and separate verdicts for Paul and Ruben Flores. Ruben’s jury heard his defense attorney’s opening statement Thursday morning. After a short break, Paul’s jury joined them in the courtroom to hear the cross examinations of Kristin Smart’s mother, father and brother.
The Smart family is from Stockton, Calif. Denise and Stan Smart had three children including Kristin, who was the oldest of the three. Kristin’s two siblings, Matt and Lindsey were 16 and 14 respectively when she disappeared.
Kristin’s brother, Matt Smart, spoke about how close they were, recalling their shared love for athletics and their family.
“Kristin Smart was not only present but involved — everything you would want from a sibling,” Matt said.
When Denise Smart took the stand, she said Kristin was not one to miss their family events or weekly Sunday phone calls — and would not have done so for 26 years.
The last time Denise saw Kristin in person was Easter of 1996. The Smart family was returning from a trip in Los Angeles and stopped to visit her at Cal Poly.
“She was thrilled to see us,” Denise said. “She had been sharing that she didn’t feel that Cal Poly was the right fit for her. She felt that it was very homogeneous, that everyone was the same.”
In response to a phone call where Kristin and her mom discussed Kristin’s unhappiness and frustrations at school, her mother wrote her a letter at the beginning of May 1996 to help “redirect” and “support” her, offering suggestions to help Kristin get back on track. Denise described it as a parenting letter that stated Kristin couldn’t just complain about things, and that the choices she made will determine the outcome of her life.
“I never would’ve thought it was my last letter to write to my daughter,” Denise said, in tears. “It breaks my heart; it’s my last letter to her.”
Kristin had Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and was being challenged at school. She had told her mom that her biology exam was lost and the professor couldn’t meet for office hours. Kristin did not receive credits for her biology class, but did go to one of the professor’s classes to wait for him since office hours weren’t working. Denise said Kristin was at risk of being on probation.
During questioning, Paul Flores’ defense attorney Robert Sanger pointed out how Denise Smart’s letter said, “you are constantly complaining and making up excuses.” Kristin was being advised to not make “poor choices,” in the letter though Denise does not remember what she was referencing. Denise said the letter represents “a moment in time” that she didn’t think she’d be talking about 26 years later.
“I would add that this moment in time did not define who Kristin was or the value of her life,” Denise said.
Denise said they were “never on bad terms,” and that Kristin was making progress at Cal Poly before she went missing.
The day before she went missing, Kristin had left a voicemail telling her mom she had good news to share during their Sunday phone call.
Prosecutor Chris Peuvrelle asked Denise if she ever heard Kristin’s voice again. Denise was in tears. “No.”
During questioning, defense attorney Robert Sanger implied that Kristin was having issues prior to college, such as going off with someone to another island while she had a summer job in Hawaii, according to Sanger.
“Not everything was rosy before Kristin went to SLO, was it?” Sanger asked. Denise said she was not aware of this, and hadn’t heard of Kristin going off to another island while working in Hawaii.
Sanger’s line of questioning was promptly cut off upon objection by the prosecution.
Denise said Kristin went to live with her dad her junior year of high school, as he had just been newly employed as a school principal in Napa. Denise said that the move was challenging for Kristin, but she was successful.
As a school principal, Stan said he wanted to provide Kristin with an education while spending quality time with her. But buying a house in Napa was hard for her and her father, so she came back and decided to graduate early so she could work as a lifeguard. Kristin graduated from high school in 1995 a few months early and after her lifeguard job, lived off-campus for a little while. She had no difficulties, but was ready to get on campus, Denise said.
Peuvrelle, Sanger and Ruben Flores’ defense attorney Harold Mesick all conducted cross examinations. Before questioning started up again after a lunch break, Denise was seen praying.
At one point during Mesick’s cross examination, he said trying to get the truth out of Denise was “like pulling teeth.”
The Smart Family’s search for Kristin
Denise Smart said she made many efforts to locate Kristin. Denise said that when Kristin went missing, she received a call from the Cal Poly Police Department that didn’t provide much information. She called San Luis Obispo Police and the Sheriff’s Department, neither of which had jurisdiction over the incident.
The dorm’s RA said she couldn’t talk to her because of privacy. When she called Cal Poly President Warren Baker and his secretary, she was told to talk to Kristin’s RA.
Denise then called two FBI offices who told her they would reach out to the Cal Poly Police Department. However, Cal Poly’s campus police said they did not need the help. She continued to try and find Kristin, reaching out to the Poly Class Foundation to put together a team to look for Kristin on campus.
Denise said she didn’t go to work for a year and a half, caring for her two children at home on top of looking for Kristin for countless hours.
“For the next 25 years, I looked wherever I could,” Denise said. “[It] felt like the life of my daughter was of no value to anyone except for family.”
Because of his close bond with his sister, Matt Smart said he tried “all means humanly possible” to find her. Matt said his family had a map on the wall with thumbtacks of sightings, which were all eventually proven false.
When asked if he knew what happened to Kristin, Matt said, “I wished to God I did. I know nothing of it.”
Denise Smart then hired a lawyer from SLO, who then sued the Flores family for information.
“—For money,” Sanger replied.
Denise maintained her stance: “For information.”
Stan Smart took the stand and talked about his own search efforts for his daughter.
Following her disappearance, Stan was released from the school board and looked for Kristin’s remains over the span of three months.
Desperate to find Kristin, Stan said he spoke to about 1,000 people, saw more than 600 people looking for Kristin and even tried to follow up with psychics. Through his search, he learned that Paul Flores was the last person to see his daughter.
Acting on this piece of information, Stan visited Ruben Flores’ home in Arroyo Grande. According to Stan, upon arriving, he introduced himself at a distance of 15 to 20 feet. However, Stan said he found a threatening demeanor and unwillingness to talk from Ruben, who told him, “you ought to leave or someone might get shot.”
Despite a news investigation distributed that stated that Paul Flores was the focus of the investigation, Stan said learning about a K9 search for Kristin’s remains on-campus factored into his conclusion to look further into Paul Flores. However, when questioned, Stan testified that he did not know the fact that the dogs signaled to other places in the area in addition to Paul Flores’ dorm room.
The court ran out of time on Thursday, but the cross examination of Stan Smart will resume at 8:30 a.m. on Friday.
Ruben Flores’ defense attorney lays out his case
Ahead of cross examinations, Ruben Flores’ defense attorney, Harold Mesick, gave an opening statement to the jury. Sanger and Peuvrelle both gave their opening statements on Monday.
During his opening statement, Mesick claimed there are multiple unknowns of Smart’s disappearance, including the what, where, when and why. Mesick said the 26-year disappearance has resulted in “torment” not only for Smart’s family, but for the Flores’ family as well.
“The most tragic thing about all of this is that after 26 years of police investigation… we still don’t know what happened,” Mesick said. “At the end of this trial, if you still don’t know what happened, that’s gonna be the ultimate tragedy of this case.”
Mesick told the jury to consider the evidence provided about Smart’s disappearance and to what extent it can be proven, as the prosecution would try to “manipulate every single one of you.”
“If at the end of the trial you have an empty notebook, I’m gonna ask you to find my client not guilty,” Mesick said.
During the first trial date, Peurvelle showed a slide of weekend events following Kristin Smart’s disappearance saying that Ruben Flores was unaccounted for. However, Mesick claimed that Ruben Flores attended the annual Strawberry Festival, then picked up Paul to work on his truck and have dinner together. Then, Ruben Flores went to work on Monday, according to Mesick.
Questioning the alleged “grave site” under Ruben Flores’ deck, Mesick said that the archeologist who studied the dirt concluded that the dirt was taken out and put back, not that a body was there.
Before Ruben Flores’ house was constructed, there was an avocado orchard. The trees were old and overgrown, with roots decomposing organic material, Mesick said, implying that the roots were the “organic material” present in the alleged “grave site.” To believe the prosecution’s theory that Kristin Smart was buried there requires “several leaps of logic” and to “imagine certain things,” Mesick said.
The archeologist has excavated hundreds of grave sites, always finding some human remains, such as bones, which can last thousands of years. Yet the dug-up hole was the only place where the archeologist found no remains.
“She won’t call it a grave site, she’s being actually honest about that,” Mesick said.
Peuvrelle wants you to believe that Paul Flores takes Kristin Smart to his room and somehow kills her or allows her to die, Mesick said. He says it was unlikely that Paul Flores slept with her dead body for 30 hours before calling his father at 9:47 a.m. Paul would have had to put the body in the truck mid-morning when it’s daylight, with students still roaming around the campus. Ruben Flores would then have to move her body to his truck without anyone noticing, Mesick said.
Citing that Kristin Smart was 6’1’’ and 145 lbs, Mesick said it made no sense for her to be buried under a deck with 2 ft of head room, and a 4ft dug hole. In addition, the Flores’ have two golden retrievers, but had no worry about the dogs digging anything up.
“Without any physical evidence… no blood, no teeth, no bones, no clothing… it’s ludicrous this case was even brought up,” Mesick said.
Regarding the accusation that the Flores’ dug up Smart’s body before their home was searched in 2020, Mesick said Ruben Flores could not have crawled under the deck at 79 years old to dig up her body and leave no trace – especially while being “surveilled 24/7” by their neighbors and the community.
Mesick said someone would have seen them attempting this, referring to the media presence and public interest. He said “Your Own Backyard” podcast host Chris Lambert’s “tentacles reach far and wide.”
Mesick described Ruben Flores as someone with good character, telling the jury that he was an aircraft mechanic in the Navy, received honorable discharge and volunteered with the police department.
“This is a good man over here,” Mesick said. “He’s never done anything wrong in his life.”
For information on the first day of the trial and more in-depth background on the case, read previous reporting here. For further updates, visit @CPMustangNews on Twitter.