A key witness testified Monday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court that she feared for her safety after a conversation she had with the man accused of killing Cal Poly student Kristin Smart.
Jennifer Hudson said on the stand that murder defendant Paul Flores told her in 1996 that he had “taken care of” Smart, then laughed about it.
Hudson, who was 17 years old at the time, said she didn’t tell anyone about Flores’ comments for the next six years because she feared for her life.
“I was afraid I’d end up missing or buried someplace,” Hudson testified.
Paul Flores, now 44, is the last person known to have seen the 19-year-old freshman alive after walking her back from the party toward the Cal Poly campus residence halls on May 24, 1996.
Smart’s body has never been found, but investigators said in court documents that her remains were buried at Ruben Flores’ Arroyo Grande home but recently moved.
Monday marked the 22th full day of proceedings as the evidentiary hearing began its seventh week.
The hearing, which began Aug. 2, was tentatively scheduled to conclude by Sept. 10. However, the prosecution revealed in court Aug. 9 that it still had at least one witness remaining and the defense has yet to call any of its proposed witnesses.
It is unclear whether the hearing will conclude by the end of this week.
When testimony concludes and an outstanding defense motion to exclude evidence gathered in the case is decided, Superior Court Judge Craig van Rooyen will rule whether prosecutors established probable cause — a lesser standard of proof than guilt beyond a reasonable doubt — to proceed the case toward trial.
Here’s what happened in court so far Monday.
Witness waited years to speak about Paul Flores’ comments
Hudson previously testified on Aug. 12 that she initially met Paul Flores at a house party gathering. That’s where she heard Flores claim he “took care of” Smart and put her body under a skateboard ramp in rural Arroyo Grande, she said.
“He had a smirk when he said it, like it was a joke,” Hudson said Monday. “Anyone would have been terrified if they heard it.”
After she’d heard Flores make that claim about Smart, Hudson said, she saw him at a skate area in Huasna, near where she lived at the time.
On Monday, Hudson said in Superior Court that she waited six years before telling her then-boyfriend, Justin Goodwin, about Flores’ comment.
Within the past two years, she shared that information with Chris Lambert, whose “Your Own Backyard” podcast explores the Smart case, with the understanding he’d communicate it to law enforcement.
Hudson later shared the same information with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office, she said.
However, Hudson she said she was turned off by Goodwin and Lambert’s attitude toward the Smart case, saying they were “trying to play cop.”
“They began to have a negative attitude about the former sheriff and the current sheriff and people in the office,” Hudson said. “It didn’t sit right.”
Lambert asked Hudson not to share information with Det. Clint Cole, the lead Sheriff’s Office investigator in the Smart case, she testified.
Hudson said she became aware of a reward for information in Smart’s disappearance after Goodwin told her, but she added that she spoke out to “help bring the family peace.”
“I didn’t care about (the reward),” she said.
Defense questions witness about past drug use
In cross-examination, defense attorneys for Paul and Ruben Flores asked questions about Hudson’s past drug use.
Hudson acknowledged using methamphetamine off and on, but said she wasn’t doing so at the time she’d met Flores and heard his statement, nor has her memory been affected, she said.
The defense asked about associations with a motorcycle gang as well.
Hudson said she had met members of the Hell’s Angels through her parents as a child but was not in close contact with them, nor did she consider herself directly associated.
She said that she first met a member of another motorcycle gang at age 32, but that was long after anything to do with Flores.
Detective: Former tenant blocked from part of Ruben Flores’ home
Cole also took the stand Monday.
He testified that David Stone, who lived at Ruben Flores’ home on White Court in Arroyo Grande between 2010 and 2020, said that Stone told him the elder Flores forbid him from going under the deck.
Stone kept two 55-gallon drum containers there for storage for a couple of weeks before Ruben Flores told him to remove the items, Cole said.
Also, Stone said Flores told a plumber not to go under the deck to complete a repair, which Flores said he’d do himself, Cole testified.
Stone also told Cole that he heard Flores use a pejorative to describe Smart, the detective said.
Defense attorney Harold Mesick, who is representing Ruben Flores, asked Cole if Stone ever had anything “negative” to say about Ruben Flores.
Cole said Stone didn’t express any negative feelings about Flores.
“He lived there nearly 11 years,” Mesick said of Stone. “That’s longer than the average of 8.5 years of marriage in California.”
Neighbor says she saw vehicles at Flores home
Before attorneys presented closing arguments to end the preliminary hearing, Flores’ neighbor Jami Lyn Holman testified she saw a cargo trailer and red sports utility vehicle, as well as a camper trailer, at Flores’ property.
“That was unusual,” Holman said.
Holman, whose two-story home has a view of the Flores residence, said it was unusual because of the way the SUV was pulled to the side of Ruben Flores’ home.
Holman said she heard yelling and swearing about dusk.
The vehicles were parked there four days after a law enforcement search of the property, which she learned about from the news, Holman said.
The next morning, before she left the work, the vehicles were still there, Holman said, but she never saw the cargo trailer after that.
Holman first texted Lambert the information, who passed it on to the Sheriff’s Office. The agency interviewed her a year later after Paul and Ruben Flores were arrested.
Defense attorneys opted not to call any witnesses during the preliminary hearing.
The defense and prosecution then presented their arguments as to whether sufficient evidence exists for the case to go to trial.
After a one-day break, Van Rooyen expects to make his ruling on Wednesday.
This story was originally published September 20, 2021 1:39 PM.