After 25 years, Paul Flores, the lead suspect in the 1996 disappearance of 19-year-old Cal Poly San Luis Obispo freshman Kristin Smart, will go on trial for her murder and his father will be tried as an accessory to the killing, a judge ruled Wednesday.
The decision follows 22 days of testimony during which the prosecutor laid out his case against Flores for San Luis Obispo County Judge Craig B. Van Rooyen. Although fellow Cal Poly student Flores was the last person seen with Smart near her dorm on Memorial Day weekend, her body has never been found and he was not charged with her murder until April.
Witness Jennifer Hudson testified during the preliminary hearing that Flores, now 44, admitted to her in 1996 that he had killed Smart, allegedly telling her, “I’m done playing with her and I put her out underneath my ramp,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
Deputy District Attorney Chris Peuvrelle also presented testimony that he says implicates Flores’s father, 80-year-old Ruben Flores, as an accessory to the crime—allegedly concealing Smart’s body and keeping some of the remains below a deck at his Arroyo Grande home for years before moving them.
Paul Flores’s lawyer, Robert Sanger, argued that “there was no consistent theory” as to what happened to Smart, who was declared dead in 2003, or where her body is. And though Sanger referred in court to an ex-boyfriend who had left burned shoes on Smart’s doorstep, he said he was not accusing that person of the murder, but rather, “I’m saying there’s no evidence anyone had done it.”
Other prosecution witnesses included a classmate of Flores’s who told the court that he had lied about a black eye he said he’d gotten playing basketball and a woman who testified she saw Flores hanging around Smart’s dormitory despite his claims that he had never been there before.
According to Peuvrelle’s theory of the crime, Smart had passed out at a party for two hours in front of numerous other partygoers, and two friends were helping her walk home when Flores “came out of the darkness” and repeatedly told one of the friends, Cheryl Anderson, that he would get her home safely.
Several witnesses also claimed that Ruben Flores had kept them away from a space under a wooden deck at his house and that the plot had been dug up and filled back in. An ex-girlfriend of the younger Flores testified that when she once tried to pick an avocado from Ruben Flores’s backyard one of the accused “told me to come around [the house] and get away from there.”
Prosecutors also claimed that Flores is a serial predator whose M.O. is to attack inebriated women and who “has raped so many women it’s hard to keep track.” The judge, however, refused to allow rape charges from 2011 and 2017 involving two women in Los Angeles to be added to the case. Judge Van Rooyen also said there was no evidence that Smart’s murder was a sex crime and would not allow prosecutors to introduce evidence from the L.A. cases.
Sanger characterized the prosecution’s attempt to add new charges as a publicity stunt.