Paul and Ruben Flores’ murder trial will not take place in San Luis Obispo County, presiding judge Craig van Rooyen ruled earlier Wednesday morning.
The reasoning for van Rooyen’s decision was mostly attributed to the notoriety of the case in the county. He said that there is a reasonable likelihood that the Flores’ will not receive a fair and impartial trial in San Luis Obispo County.
“I just don’t think this case is discussed around the dinner tables in other places the way it is in this county,” van Rooyen said.
The hearing was held over Zoom, with appearances by Paul and Ruben Flores. Both are being charged with the murder and accessory to the murder, respectively, of former Cal Poly Student Kristin Smart.
Kristin Smart disappeared in 1996 after being seen walking with Paul Flores from an off-campus party to the residence halls. Her body has not been found, but Smart was declared legally dead in 2002.
“They want to give them a fair trial and hang him at dawn, Your Honor, and I don’t think staying in this county is going to be in the best interest of my client and certainly not in the best interest of Paul Flores,” defense attorney Harold Mersick said, representing Ruben Flores.
However, deputy district attorney Crystal Seiler said that the news coverage was “based on evidence that will be admitted at trial,” and was not sensationalized. Referencing the evidence that Flores was the last person seen with Smart, Selier said “those facts are admissible, factual and not inflammatory” when present in media coverage.
“The defense is verging into hyperbole [in saying] ‘there are countless stories, there are endless print articles.’ And that’s not precise,” Selier said, in reference to the exhibits of news publications in Sanger’s brief.
Judge van Rooyen concluded in ruling that the motion to move the trial had been passed, with reasoning by the five factors: the nature and gravity of the offense, the nature and extent of pretrial publicity, the size of the community, the status of the defendants and the status of the alleged victim.
“I think there’s a reasonable likelihood that, given the intense local interest, the county has reached a saturation point and it would be very hard to find yours in a community of this size who would not have had conversations about the case and reach some sort of at least intuitive view of the facts as they’ve been presented in the media,” Rooyen said.
The trial readiness conference is still set for April 25; no alternative location has been set yet. An additional pre-trial conference will occur at 8:30 a.m. on April 4 via Zoom.