A San Luis Obispo County judge has ordered the murder trial of Paul Flores in the 1996 disappearance of student Kristin Smart be moved 150 miles north to Monterey County, saying that Flores could not be guaranteed a fair trial in a place where for decades billboards have appealed for evidence to convict her killer.
Judge Craig van Rooyen announced the location shift Wednesday after agreeing with a motion last month by attorneys for Flores and his father, Ruben — who is charged as an accessory to the crime — to move the trial because of the decades of publicity surrounding the disappearance of the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student.
The decision to shift the location is expected to delay the trial, which could have gotten underway next month. A defense lawyer for Paul Flores has also said he has yet to receive all the forensic soil samples gathered in the investigation.
Flores was arrested in April 2021 at his San Pedro home, 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. While Smart’s body has never been found, she was legally declared dead in 2002.
In September, after hearing 22 days of testimony, the judge ruled there was enough evidence for the Floreses to be tried. Prosecutors laid out a circumstantial case against the pair.
During the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor solicited testimony from witness Jennifer Hudson that the now 44-year-old 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 only 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 the now 80-year-old 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 that was 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. Fibers recovered also could be consistent with the clothes Smart was last seen wearing, another expert testified.
But Paul Flores’ attorney Robert Sanger said those fibers could be pink construction string.
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 has said that “there was no consistent theory” about where Smart’s body went and no proof of what happened to her. During the preliminary hearing, he noted that a former boyfriend had left burned shoes on her 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 him hanging around Smart’s dormitory even though he claimed to have never been there.
Prosecutors also portrayed Paul Flores as a serial predator who “has raped so many women, it’s hard to keep track.”
The judge, however, did not allow 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 either drunk or intoxicated. Van Rooyen said there is no evidence of a sex crime in Smart’s killing and the evidence from the Los Angeles incidents cannot be used as a substitute.
Paul Flores remains in custody, while Ruben Flores is free on bail. A new trial date is expected to be set at a hearing next week.