SALINAS, Calif. (KRON) — “Predators are creatures of opportunity,” a prosecutor told the Kristin Smart murder trial jury.
Smart’s Cal Poly classmate, Paul Flores, was given two more decades of opportunity to prey on women after murdering Smart because he was never arrested until 2021, according to the prosecutor.
Smart, 19, vanished on May 25, 1996 while she was walking back to her dorm room from an off-campus party. Flores was the last person seen with Smart alive. Cal Poly campus police knew Flores lied during their interrogations early-on in the investigation. But police believed they didn’t have enough evidence to put him behind bars in 1996.
Defense attorney Robert Sanger told jurors, “It is believed she is deceased, but there is no evidence of what happened to her after Paul Flores left her. Facts will show law enforcement was aware that they did not have a case. They had no eye witnesses, a body was not recovered, there is no physical evidence, and no forensic evidence.”
“At the end (of the trial,) Kristin Smart will still be missing, and we’re not going to know what happened,” defense attorney Harold Mesick told the jury this week.
Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle said when Smart’s roommate dropped her off at a party the night she vanished, Smart was sober. Witnesses who attended the party saw Smart talking with Flores next to a tiki bar before she suddenly was struggling to talk or stand. Smart was passed out face-down on a lawn when two students helped her stand up to walk her back to the dorm. That’s when Flores “appeared out from the darkness,” and said he would make sure Smart made it back home safe, Peuvrelle said.
Last year, prosecutors charged Flores with murdering Smart in his dorm room while he attempted to rape her. During opening statements of trial this week, prosecutors revealed what happened to other women who crossed paths with Flores during his 26 years of freedom between 1996 and 2021.
More victims after Kristin Smart’s death
After Flores left college, he found more victims using eerily similar tactics: meeting women in bars, spiking their drinks with blackout-inducing drugs, and raping them, according to San Luis Obispo County prosecutors.
Peuvrelle told the jury that Flores moved away from San Luis Obispo County down to San Pedro in Los Angeles County into a house that was near several popular bars and nightclubs. “In south Los Angeles there are a lot of bars. A lot of opportunity,” Peuvrelle said.
Three women who went out to bars within a 1-mile radius of Flores’ San Pedro house became his new targets, according to investigators.
One woman identified in court only as “Rachel Doe,” went to a lounge with friends to play pool and drink on Jan. 16, 2007. She briefly stepped outside of the lounge and left her drink unattended. Hours later, “she wakes up in a strange house completely naked,” Peuvrelle said. “Rachel Doe” drove herself to a hospital for sexual assault exam. A DNA swab collected from the exam matched Flores’ DNA, according to investigators.
A second woman, “Rhonda Doe,” encountered Flores inside a nightclub in 2008. Flores offered her a ride home from the nightclub. But instead of driving the woman home, Flores took her to his house, Peuvrelle told the jury. After Flores offered her a drink, she started slipping in and out of blackouts.
“She remembered a red ball gag with black straps being forced on her. She never consented to any of this. She remembers sobbing to herself with a ball gag in her mouth,” Peuvrelle said.
“Rhonda Doe” later contacted police and showed them a new phone number on her contacts list labeled, “Paul.” Police showed the woman a lineup for suspects and she vaguely recognized Flores’ face. Police then showed her a photo of Flores’ home driveway and she definitively recognized it.
A third woman, “Sarah Doe,” met Flores at a bar in 2011 and agreed to go to his house. “She remembers the house and that she was given something to drink,” Peuvrelle said, and she was slipping in and out of consciousness while Flores sexually assaulted her. She told Flores to stop, he pulled a red ball gag with black straps out of his dresser, and held her down, according to the prosecutor.
“She was having trouble breathing and it looked like he was enjoying it,” Peuvrelle said.
Flores’ defense attorney, Robert Sanger, told the jury that Smart engaged in risky social behavior during her freshman year at Cal Poly.
“It’s not nice to talk about someone who is not here to defend herself. On the other hand, (prosecutors) will present evidence that she was from from a tight-knit family, everything was wonderful, and it wasn’t, unfortunately. Kristin was engaged in at-risk behavior. It was problematic. Her friends said she was likely to get in a car with a guy and go off,” Sanger said.
Smart did not own a car. She either rode her bicycle or relied on car rides from others for transportation in her college town.
“She had a history of going off with men, including older men. Her parents were at wits end with her because she had quit her jobs and was flunking out. She indicated to people that she wanted to leave and be a model,” Sanger told the jury.
Sanger told the jury that Smart was wearing “short shorts” and a crop top shirt at the party before she disappeared.
“She told people that she was a model, worked for Roxy, the company that made the short shorts she was wearing that night. She did not,” Sanger told the jury.
Flores’ father, Ruben Flores, is also on trial and charged with helping his son cover up Smart’s murder by hiding her body in the backyard of his Arroyo Grande home.
In the wake of Smart’s disappearance, Ruben Flores walked around Arroyo Grande tearing missing person posters down, and referred to her as a “dirty slut,” prosecutors said.
“While the entire community banded together to search for Kristin desperately, Paul and Ruben did not. Ruben tore down missing posters of Kristin showing her smiling beautiful face, called her a ‘dirty slut,’ all while her corpse was decomposing under his deck,” Peuvrelle told the jury.
Paul Flores arrested in 2021
A popular true-crime podcast, Your Own Backyard, revived public interest in Smart’s disappearance. A break in the case happened in 2020 when sheriff’s deputies wire-tapped the phones of Flores, his father, and his mother to record their private conversations.
More critical evidence was seized when investigators used ground-penetratingly radar that found a grave where Smart’s body was once buried in the Flores family’s backyard, according to prosecutors.