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Defense in Kristin Smart case points to Scott Peterson. It’s a stunt, his lawyer says

Scott Peterson in 2018.
(California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

The name of convicted killer Scott Peterson has emerged in another high-profile case: the slaying of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Kristin Smart.

A week into a hearing in which a San Luis Obispo County judge will decide whether there is enough evidence to try Paul Flores in the 1996 disappearance and killing of Smart, defense attorneys are making efforts to focus on other potential suspects, including Peterson.

But an attorney for Peterson — now serving a life sentence in San Quentin after being found guilty in the 2002 murders of wife Laci Peterson and their unborn child — said no efforts had been made to have his client testify and called statements by Flores’ defense team “a publicity stunt.”

Lawyers for 44-year-old Flores, of San Pedro, and his father, Ruben — who is accused as an accessory in the killing of Smart — have mentioned Peterson’s name during the cross-examination of prosecution witnesses in an effort to show that San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s detectives have singularly focused on Flores and ignored other potential suspects.

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Smart was a 19-year-old freshman when she vanished on Memorial Day weekend of 1996. She had gone to an off-campus party and was making the roughly 10-minute walk back to her dormitory with two other students when, the students later told police, Flores appeared and promised to see her back to her room.

Smart’s body has never been found.

After decades of investigation and several recent searches of their homes, the father and son were arrested and charged this year. Since then, their lawyers have accused authorities of ignoring other possible suspects.

Peterson also was a student at the university in 1996.

In Peterson’s case, the state Supreme Court last year ordered the trial judge to consider whether he should be granted a new trial due to “prejudicial misconduct” by one juror, with the state’s highest court having already overturned his death sentence. His murder case remains one of the highest-profile cases in California.

Having Peterson’s name mentioned in the Smart case showed the “desperation” of Flores’ defense team, said Pat Harris, Peterson’s longtime lawyer.

“I think it was more of a publicity stunt to take the attention away from the defendant,” Harris said. “I spoke to San Quentin and to Scott, and there has been no subpoena or any arrangements made for his testimony.

“The whole thing is ridiculous but just shows you the extent of the demonization of Scott. If they are desperate enough to think they need to use his name, it does not bode well for his defense.”

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During cross-examination last week, Flores’ attorney Robert Sanger asked Stan Smart, Kristin Smart’s father, whether he was aware that Peterson was at a house party that the student was at in the hours before she disappeared.

Paul and Ruben Flores have pleaded not guilty and consistently have denied having had any role in Smart’s disappearance or any knowledge of her whereabouts.

Later in the week, attorneys for the defense said they were seeking to arrange for Peterson to testify. On Monday, the attorneys questioned the lead detective about possible other suspects, including Smart’s former boyfriend, who burned her shoes in the weeks before her disappearance, and Peterson.

Peterson is mentioned in the Smart investigation because a Modesto Police detective questioned Peterson’s brother, who told him he once discussed the student’s disappearance with Scott Peterson before Peterson was charged with his wife’s murder.

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Another man the defense mentioned as a possible suspect was a dropout of the university who was later convicted of murder in San Diego, a conviction that was overturned; he later pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation referred questions about whether Peterson would testify to the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court. Because of a strict gag order in the case, attorneys and the Sheriff’s Department cannot answer questions about potential witnesses.


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