A preliminary hearing for Paul and Ruben Flores in the 1996 disappearance and death of Kristin Smart began last week. After seven days of witness testimonies and pieces of evidence, here’s what to know about the early stages of the investigation into Smart’s disappearance.
The preliminary hearing is expected to last all month and will continue to take place in-person in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court. The hearing will decide whether the prosecution has enough evidence to prosecute Paul Flores for the murder of Smart and his father, Ruben Flores, for accessory to murder after the fact.
Kristin Smart went missing on May 25, 1996 after attending an off-campus Memorial Day weekend party. Paul Flores is reported to be the last person seen with Kristin.
Kristin Smart’s friend recalls night of disappearance
Margarita Campos, Smart’s neighbor in Muir Hall, testified last week. Campos was included in former Cal Poly Police Department Detective Mike Kennedy’s original report. She recalled the year she met Smart, and the night that she disappeared.
“It’s a very eerie feeling when your friend disappears,” Campos said in court.
Campos knew Kristin for six months before her disappearance. She said they talked about family, traveling, changing majors, activities, complaints — “just life.” Campos said her and Smart did not know their plans for the future, but they both thought Cal Poly was the wrong place for them.
On Friday, May 24, 1996, Campos said her and Smart were hanging out while both their roommates were gone. She said it was quiet in Muir Hall due to Memorial Day weekend.
They went to a get together by California Boulevard in the early evening where they had one beer each. Campos said Kristin wore Roxy black board shorts, a grey crop top, red tennis shoes, no socks, and her hair was dyed brown at the time.
Campos and Smart were dropped off at Foothill and California Boulevard after the party. At around 11 p.m. Campos went back to the dorms, but Smart walked to the Crandall Way party.
“That’s the last time I saw her,” Campos said in court. “Why did I just let her go by herself?”
Campos said Smart was sober when they separated. She didn’t have a room key, wallet or purse on her, so Campos gave her her key and Kristin put it in her shoe because she didn’t have any pockets.
Deputy District Attorney Chris Peuvrelle asked if Smart was known to be gone from her dorm for more than 24 hours. Campos said no.
“I couldn’t understand how somebody would just drop off the face of the earth,” Campos said. “This was not like Kristin to not say anything to anyone.”
It was reported that Kristin’s room had not changed at all from the night she disappeared to the afternoon after. The last time Kristin’s roommate saw her was May 24, 1996 around 7-8 p.m.
On May 25, Campos kept an eye out for Smart.
On May 26, Campos said “that’s when things started getting surreal.”
Campos reported Smart missing on May 26. Students were then interviewed by campus police in a group setting.
Campos said she had concerns about the details Cal Poly Police and the Sheriff’s Department had. For one thing, Campos said she saw footprints outside her window the night of Smart’s disappearance, but she said campus police did not investigate it.
Defense attorney Robert Sanger questioned both Detective Kennedy and Campos about a phone call that was included in the initial police report.
Campos told Kennedy 25 years ago that she had received a call around 2 or 3 a.m. on May 29, 1996. Campos had thought it could’ve been Smart because she had called late in the past.
When Sanger asked Campos about the May 29 phone call “from Kristin,” Campos said “that is not correct.” She never said it was associated with Kristin and she did not hear a woman mumbling on the other end. This was mistakenly noted in the police report.
Campos said she had received multiple “prank phone calls” before and after Kristin went missing. She says that while she was trying to be as detailed as possible back then, looking back now she doesn’t think much of it.
Campos also said she was “very frustrated” with Kennedy and other officials in 1996.
In 2017, Campos wanted to tell her side and emailed San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson. When in contact with the police, Campos said they instilled shame and showed implicit bias, defaming Kristin’s character.
In the beginning of the investigation, Campos felt “censored” by the media. She said they demeaned Smart’s character by focusing on her promiscuity — what Campos described in court as “victim blaming.”
Campos described Smart as “a very determined woman” who “wasn’t a follower.”
Law enforcement officials answer questions about early stages of investigation
The investigation shifted focus on Friday, May 31, 1996 — when Cal Poly continued investigating Kristin’s missing person case while the District Attorney’s Office began investigating Paul Flores.
Retired Cal Poly Police Department investigator Kennedy, who handled the case, testified.
Sanger questioned Kennedy on an approximate 500-page report from him 25 years ago. However, Kennedy could not recall most of the information in the report, including Kristin’s relations with other boys, whether two students were in her room the night of her disappearance and whether one boy set her shoes on fire around the time before her disappearance.
Sanger also questioned Kennedy about a “public emphasis” on Paul early in the investigation. Sanger cited “warning” posters with a picture of Paul and that information, including his major and Ruben’s home address, were scattered around campus.
Sanger asked if the posters incited anger on campus toward Paul. Kennedy said the posters were not released by the police and he thought they were “not appropriate.” Kennedy said he had no intention of releasing information about Paul that early in the investigation, though there was a “constant request for more information” at the time.
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Detective Clint Cole testified last week that he kept an open mind when starting to investigate this case, considering other potential suspects including Scott Peterson.
The defense focused especially on Scott Peterson, a former Cal Poly student who was convicted of murdering his wife and unborn son in 2004 and is currently in prison. Kennedy said he did not know if Peterson was at the Crandall Way party, and was not aware of a statement Peterson reportedly made to his parents about Smart. Kennedy said he didn’t follow up on Peterson during the initial investigation.
Kennedy said there were 75 to 125 reported sightings of Smart and about 100 to 150 tips after she went missing, but none provided any leads. Kennedy did not interview anyone based on the reported sightings. For each sighting, the police alerted local agencies, but “we didn’t find Kristin,” Kennedy said.
To read the most recent updates in the Kristin Smart hearing, click here.