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Paul Flores ‘hunted’ Kristin Smart before killing her, prosecutor says

A man with a mask.
Paul Flores at his preliminary hearing in 2021. He is accused of killing college student Kristin Smart.
(David Middlecamp / Associated Press)

Eleven Sundays have passed since the start of the murder trial of Paul Flores, who is accused of killing Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Kristin Smart and disposing of her body.

But a San Luis Obispo County prosecutor said that pales in comparison with the 1,370 Sundays that Stan and Denise Smart have waited to find their daughter, who vanished after a college party in 1996, or at least learn what happened to her.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Chris Peuvrelle told jurors that Paul Flores and his father, Ruben Flores, knew where her body was all those years.

“But now you know where she was all along, under their deck,” Peuvrelle told jurors in closing statements Monday in a Salinas courtroom, pointing toward Paul and Ruben Flores. “They treated her burial with less reverence than a family pet.”

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Peuvrelle said Paul Flores raped or attempted to rape and eventually killed the 19-year-old Smart before hiding her remains with the help of his father.

Ruben Flores, 81, is being tried at the same time as his son as an accessory to the crime, accused of helping dispose of Smart’s body, which has never been found.

Separate juries hearing the case together will decide each man’s fate.

Robert Sanger, Paul Flores’ attorney, told jurors that they had been told “a bunch of conspiracy theories not backed up by facts” by a prosecutor intent on making them hate Paul Flores. Peuvrelle, he claimed, had witnesses testify to remarks Flores never made about Smart. “He is trying to bootstrap a murder where there is no evidence of murder,” Sanger said.

Smart’s disappearance and the 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 she was legally declared dead in 2002.

A San Luis Obispo County judge ordered the Flores trials be moved more than 100 miles north to Monterey County to ensure fair legal proceedings.

Prosecutors in the Kristin Smart murder trial turn to graphic images and testimony from two women who testified Paul Flores raped them.

Peuvrelle said testimony from two women who claimed Paul Flores raped them decades after Smart vanished supports the prosecution’s theory that Flores sexually assaulted the teen, then killed her and hid her body.

“Sarah Doe and Rhonda Doe tell us what Kristin could not, that she was raped or that Paul Flores tried to rape her,” he said during his closing statement. The women, who testified last month under the pseudonyms to protect their privacy, alleged Flores sexually assaulted them in Los Angeles in 2008 and 2011, respectively.

In their cases, the prosecutor noted Flores had offered to give the women rides home after meeting them, only to drug and repeatedly rape them at his house. Showing the jury an image found on Flores’ computer of a gagged woman, Peuvrelle added that the two witnesses had testified they too had been gagged with the same ball gag.

Smart was last seen walking with Flores near residence halls on campus on May 25, 1996, after attending a party. But Peuvrelle told jurors that Flores, a fellow Cal Poly student, had “hunted” her for months, frequently appearing where she was, including her dormitory.

The night of the party, he appeared out of the darkness to help her walk home after she had passed out on a lawn from drinking heavily, the prosecutor said.

San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s detectives arrested Flores, 44, at his San Pedro home in April 2021, decades after identifying him as a person of interest in Smart’s disappearance. His father was taken into custody last year at his home in Arroyo Grande, Calif. Prosecutors say he helped hide Smart’s body before moving it in 2020.

On Tuesday, San Luis Obispo County authorities arrested longtime suspect Paul Flores along with his father in connection with Smart’s slaying.

Peuvrelle told jurors that Paul Flores should be found guilty under the state’s felony murder law since he allegedly committed the killing as part of a rape or attempted rape of an intoxicated person.

Recounting weeks of testimony, the prosecutor highlighted the three police dog handlers who testified their cadaver dogs each had sought out Flores’ room from more than 120 rooms in the dormitory and signaled they had detected the scent of death.

And he noted that Flores had told many stories about how he had received a black eye at the time Smart went missing that varied from a basketball game to installing a car radio.

Since the trial’s start in July, Peuvrelle has sought to piece together a narrative of how during a four-day period when Flores was not seen on campus, he allegedly removed Smart’s body with the help of his father and buried it under the deck at his father’s Arroyo Grande house.

Ruben Flores, the prosecutor alleged, kept people away from the deck for years. Then, in 2020, as police were zeroing in on the house, a neighbor testified she saw a bevy of activity as a trailer backed up to the property.

A soil scientist and archaeologist testified that ground radar showed an anomaly in the soil and indications of bodily fluids that were consistent with a body having been buried and removed, the prosecutor repeatedly reminded jurors.

Sanger rebuffed that claim, telling jurors the prosecution had presented no DNA evidence that connected Paul Flores to any crime, and that the soil analysis had been vague and not linked to the missing student.

Sanger acknowledged that while Smart’s disappearance means it is likely something bad happened to her, he said the prosecution had presented no hard evidence tying Flores to the alleged killing. The case, he said, had been built on circumstantial evidence amplified by local residents and a true-crime podcast, “Your Own Backyard,” that turned up potential witnesses and avenues of investigation.

With no evidence Smart was raped or that Flores attempted to rape her, jurors should not consider the testimony of Sarah Doe and Rhonda Doe, Sanger said.

He added that a key witness for the prosecution, Jennifer Hudson, who testified that Paul Flores admitted to her that he killed Smart, had offered varying versions of her story and waited many years before coming forward.

Sanger is scheduled to finish his closing statement Tuesday, and Peuvrelle will make a final statement before jurors begin deliberating.

The second jury will hear closing statements in Ruben Flores’ case.


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