Kristin Smart case: Jury selection gets underway for Paul Flores’ trial after it’s moved 126 miles
Kristin Smart vanished 26 years ago after walking back toward the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo dormitories from a party.
Now fellow student Paul Flores, last seen with her that night, faces a trial for her murder beginning Monday with jury selection in one of California’s most famous cold cases.
Smart’s disappearance and the subsequent murder investigation have haunted the Central Coast college community for decades, with billboards appealing for evidence to convict her killer. Her body has never been found. But San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s detectives, after years of searches and questioning, arrested Flores at his San Pedro home last year and his father, Ruben, at his home in Arroyo Grande, Calif. Ruben Flores is charged with being an accessory to the crime for allegedly moving the body.
After deciding there was enough evidence to try Paul Flores on charges of killing Smart during a rape or attempted rape in his dorm room, a San Luis Obispo judge ordered the trial be moved 126 miles north to Monterey County to ensure a fair trial for the father and son. Paul Flores, 45, and Ruben Flores, 80, will be tried by separate juries, and those impaneled in each case won’t hear the same evidence. The testimony isn’t likely to get underway until next month. The trial is expected to last until October.
Some 1,520 Monterey County residents have received jury duty summons. The selection process began Monday at the courthouse in Salinas. The jury pool will be whittled down to 40 jurors, including alternates, for the two trials. Monterey County Judge Jennifer O’Keefe, who at 44 is one year younger than Smart would have been today, last week declined the defense lawyers’ effort to dismiss the case for “outrageous government conduct.”
An extensive jury questionnaire is used to screen jurors. Both sides in each case will be able to use 10 peremptory challenges to excuse a potential juror without reason. When the juries make final decisions, the verdicts will be announced at the same time. No video or recordings will be allowed during the proceedings.
Paul Flores was arrested in April 2021, nearly 25 years after Smart vanished. The 19-year-old was last seen walking with him near residence halls after attending a party in the early hours of May 25, 1996. Both were Cal Poly students at the time. Although Smart’s body has never been found, she was legally declared dead in 2002.
Kristin Smart’s family spent nearly 25 years tracking her killer. Now they hope to bring her home
On Tuesday, San Luis Obispo County authorities arrested longtime suspect Paul Flores along with his father in connection with Smart’s slaying.
In September, after hearing 22 days of testimony, the judge ruled there was enough evidence for Paul and Ruben Flores to be tried. Prosecutors laid out a circumstantial case against the pair.
During the preliminary hearing, a prosecutor solicited testimony from witness Jennifer Hudson that Paul Flores admitted the crime to her in 1996.
“I’m done playing with her, and I put her out underneath my ramp,” Hudson testified that Flores told her. But she didn’t tell anyone of those words for years and informed the lead investigator in the case in 2019.
Smart had passed out at a party for two hours in full view of many, and two friends were holding her to walk her home when Flores “came out of the darkness” and repeatedly told one of those friends that he would get her home safely, Deputy Dist. Atty. Chris Peuvrelle has said.
Peuvrelle elicited testimony that he said shows Ruben Flores concealed Smart’s body, eventually moving it after years of keeping some of the remains below a deck at his Arroyo Grande home.
A geologist testified that in one of the holes dug at the home, there was a lack of consistency in the sandy soil and a “bathtub ring” along the side of the wall, which she said was a “good indication” of a human burial site whose contents were later removed. Another expert testified that fibers recovered also could be consistent with the clothes Smart was last seen wearing.
But Paul Flores’ attorney, Robert Sanger, said those fibers could be pink construction string. This month, the Monterey County judge ruled that two juries are required because Paul Flores, during a June 19, 1996, interview with law enforcement, may have implicated Ruben Flores.
The mystery over the 1996 disappearance of Kristin Smart took a new turn Wednesday when a judge ruled that Paul Flores will be tried for murder.
During the preliminary hearing, Paul Flores’ ex-girlfriend, identified as Angie Doe, said she once tried to pick an avocado from the backyard at his father’s home.
“I don’t remember if it was Mr. [Paul] Flores or Ruben, but they redirected me away from the avocado trees,” she said. “They told me to come around [the house] and get away from that area.” A renter of the home told a similar story.
Sanger maintains “there was no consistent theory” about where Smart’s body went and no proof of what happened to her. During the preliminary hearing, Sanger said a former boyfriend had left burned shoes on Smart’s doorstep.
During the hearing, prosecutors had a classmate testify that Paul Flores lied about a black eye he had claimed to have gotten in a basketball game. Another woman testified she saw Flores hanging around Smart’s dormitory even though he claimed to have never been there.
Prosecutors also portrayed Flores as a serial predator who “has raped so many women, it’s hard to keep track.”
But at the preliminary hearing, the judge barred testimony about other allegations of sexual assaults and drugging of women and rejected a move to add rape charges from 2011 and 2017 involving two women in Los Angeles.
The prosecutor argued that there was a nexus to the murder charge against Flores because, he said, Flores had a history of raping women who were intoxicated.
During the trial, the defense will probably cast the lead detectives and a local true-crime podcast as targeting Flores. In a recent court motion to dismiss the case, Sanger argued that “disinformation” was “purposely disseminated” by San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Det. Clint Cole to an unnamed podcast.
The true-crime podcast “Your Own Backyard” has been credited by authorities with reviving interest in the Smart case and helping identify potential new witnesses and avenues of investigation.
Sanger, in seeking to dismiss the case, also challenged the conduct of the government and a search warrant it got for the cellphone of Flores’ mother, Susan Flores. That phone was taken after authorities alleged she recorded a relative of a witness.
Since his arrest, Paul Flores has been held while Ruben Flores is free on bail with an ankle monitoring device. Paul Flores was transferred to the Monterey County jail as the judge heard 21 pretrial motions.
In one of those motions, the judge decided prosecutors could call Smart a victim and Paul Flores and Ruben Flores as defendants.
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