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Prosecutors are trying to prove the 1996 killing, with Kristin Smart still missing

Paul Flores killed the 19-year-old in an attempted rape in his dorm room, prosecutors say. His father, Ruben Flores, is charged as an accessory.

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SALINAS, Calif. (AP) — The man last seen with Kristin Smart, the college freshman who disappeared from a California campus 25 years ago, is on trial more than a year after he was arrested on charges of murder along with her father. who is accused of helping hide her body.

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Opening statements began Monday in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas in the case against Paul Flores and his father, Ruben Flores, who is charged as an accomplice. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

Assistant District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle described how Smart disappeared from California Polytechnic State University on Memorial Day weekend in 1996, the San Luis Obispo Tribune reported.

“In 1995, Stan and Denise Smart sent their oldest daughter, Kristin, to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo,” Peuvrelle said in his opening remarks. “During her freshman year, they looked forward to her phone call every Sunday—it was their ritual.

The call never came that weekend, Peuvrelle told jurors.

Paul Flores puts on a new N95 mask on Aug. 3, 2021, at a preliminary hearing in San Luis Obispo, Calif. (David Middlecamp/The Tribune of San Luis Obispo via AP)
Paul Flores puts on a new N95 mask on Aug. 3, 2021, at a preliminary hearing in San Luis Obispo, Calif. (David Middlecamp/The Tribune of San Luis Obispo via AP)

Smart’s remains have never been found, and the mystery of how she disappeared from the picturesque campus tucked away in the verdant coastal mountains is likely to be central to the trial.

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“And while the entire community came together to desperately search for Kristin, Paul and Ruben Flores did not join,” Peuvrelle told the jury. “You will hear Ruben Flores tear down Kristin’s missing posters – rip off her smiling beautiful face – call her a ‘dirty whore’, all while her corpse decomposes beneath his deck.”

Prosecutors say the younger Flores, now 45, killed the 19-year-old during an attempted rape on May 25, 1996, in his Cal Poly dorm room, where they were both freshmen. His father, now 81, reportedly helped bury the slain student behind his home in the nearby community of Arroyo Grande and later dug up and moved the remains.

During his opening statement, defense attorney Robert Sanger told jurors that if Paul Flores and Smart had sex on campus over the weekend, it was brief and there was no attempted rape.

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Kristin Smart disappeared in 1996.
Kristin Smart disappeared in 1996. Photo by FILES /The Associated Press

Paul Flores was long considered a suspect in the murder, but prosecutors did not arrest him and his father until 2021 after the investigation was reopened.

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson acknowledged missteps by detectives over the years and credited a popular podcast about Smart’s disappearance called “Your Own Backyard” that helped uncover new information and inspired witnesses to speak to investigators.

Investigators have conducted dozens of searches over two decades, but in the past two years turned their attention to Ruben Flores’ home about 12 miles south of Cal Poly in the community of Arroyo Grande.

Working on trellises under the deck of his large house on a cul-de-sac off Tally Ho Road, archaeologists working for the police in March 2021 found a soil disturbance the size of a coffin and the presence of human blood, prosecutors said. The blood was too degraded to extract a DNA sample.

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San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Craig Van Rooyen ordered the pair to stand trial after a 22-day preliminary hearing in which he found “strong suspicion” that the father and son committed the crimes they were charged with that there is a grave for Ruben Flores. deck and once contained Smart’s remains.

Ruben Flores, left, speaks with his attorney, Harold Mesick, after his sentencing at a court in San Luis Obispo, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. (David Middlecamp/The Tribune (of San Luis Obispo) via AP, Pool)
Ruben Flores, left, speaks with his attorney, Harold Mesick, after his sentencing at a court in San Luis Obispo, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. (David Middlecamp/The Tribune (of San Luis Obispo) via AP, Pool)

The Tribune reported that Sanger used his remarks to begin discrediting the forensic evidence Peuvrelle had presented, particularly the claims of an archaeologist expected to testify that the stain under Ruben Flores’ deck was the result of a body.

Dead search dogs are unreliable, Sanger said, and the profession itself is unregulated. He said handlers certify each other and there is no government agency that oversees them. He also said the handlers are volunteers, not scientists, such as the witness he plans to call.

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“I don’t want to put these volunteers down, they are very helpful,” Sanger said. “They specialize in disasters, finding bodies – that’s what they’re good at, and they bless their hearts that they’re out there helping people, but from a forensics perspective, you’ll hear it’s nothing more than a lead.”

Paul Flores was last seen with Smart on May 25, 1996, when he walked her home from an off-campus party where she got drunk.

When he first spoke to police three days later, he downplayed his interactions with her, saying she walked to her dorm under her own power, although other witnesses said she had passed out earlier in the night and Flores helped restrain her as they walked back. to campus.

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Flores had a black eye when investigators questioned him. He told them he got it by playing basketball with friends, who denied his account, according to court records. He later changed his story and said he hit his head while working on the car.

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At a preliminary hearing last year, prosecutors presented evidence that four dead dogs stopped by Flores’ room and alerted to the smell of death near his bed.

Van Rooyen ruled in favor of a defense request to move the trial out of San Luis Obispo County because it was unlikely Flores would get a fair trial in a city of about 47,000 people with so much notoriety.

The case was moved 110 miles (177 kilometers) north to Salinas, a small farming town where John Steinbeck set some of his most famous novels.

Sanger previously said the evidence remained the same as it was in the 1990s, when Paul Flores was the prime suspect but was never charged with a crime.

“The evidence then and now is based on speculation, not factual evidence,” Sanger said in court documents.

Sanger tried to pin the murder on someone else—noting that Scott Peterson, who was later convicted in a sensational trial of killing his pregnant wife and the fetus she was carrying, was also a student at Cal Poly at the time.

But Judge Jennifer O’Keefe, who is a year younger than Kristin Smart would be today, barred suggestions of alternate suspects unless Sanger provided evidence of their direct involvement.

Separate juries were selected to consider the evidence against each defendant. The trial should last about four months.

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