SALINAS, Calif. (KRON) — Prosecutors delivered closing arguments for the Kristin Smart murder trial Monday and highlighted key pieces of evidence revealed over the past three months.
Smart was a 19-year-old college freshman when she vanished on May 25, 1996 from California Polytechnic State University’s campus in San Luis Obispo. One of her fellow students, Paul Flores, murdered Smart as he attempted to rape her in his dorm room, according to prosecutors.
Her body has never been found. For the trial, Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle relied on circumstantial evidence gathered over a 26-year-long murder investigation. “He’s guilty as sin,” the prosecutor said.
Smart’s friends testified that she was “too nice” to tell Flores to leave her alone. “What we would see as kindness, he would see as a d**k tease. In his predatory, vile, rapist mind, that’s what he saw her as,” Peuvrelle said in closing arguments.
Flores did not testify in self defense. Monterey County Judge Jennifer O’Keefe told the jury as part of her instructions on Monday, “Do not consider for any reason at all that the defendant did not testify. Do not discuss that in your deliberation.”
Wearing a mask, suit, and tie, Flores sat in silence next to his defense attorney. His parents, Ruben and Susan, sat behind him in the courtroom gallery. Smart’s friends and family packed the courtroom gallery as well as an overflow courtroom. Smart’s friends cringed as the judge explained in detail the charges against Flores, including murder with malice, rape, and sodomy by force.
Prosecutor Peuvrelle’s Closing Argument
Smart’s 1996 disappearance is no longer a mystery, Peuvrelle told the jury. Evidence from the trial demonstrated exactly what happened. She was “hunted” around campus for months by Flores until he saw his chance: Smart was “incapacitated” from something she drank at the party, and passed out on the front lawn of the party house. She had gone to the party alone without any friends to look out for her.
Flores promised other students that he’d make sure she made it home safely, brought her back to his dorm room, murdered Smart, and buried her under the backyard deck of Flores’ father’s home, according to the prosecutor.
“Now you know where she was all along. She was under their deck. The community moved Heaven and Earth to try to find her. Paul and Ruben, they moved the dirt under their deck to hide her. Justice delayed does not have to be justice denied. We know now the truth. The truth is out. The truth is Kristin was plucked off the face of the Earth by Paul Flores,” Peuvrelle said in closing arguments.
“For crimes that happen in a bedroom, there are no witnesses. But ground-penetrating radar, a forensic archeologist, and a lab supervisor tell us what Kristin could not. We don’t have a full intact body in this case, but we have her blood. A couple grains of bloody sand. That’s all the Smart family has left of their daughter. (Rape victims) ‘Sarah Doe’ and ‘Rhonda Doe’ tell us what Kristin could not. That she was raped. They speak for Kristin. You have everything you need to render a guilty verdict,” Peuvrelle told the jury.
Defense Attorney Robert Sanger’s Closing Argument
Flores’ defense attorney told the jury that Peuvrelle’s closing argument was filled with “conspiracy theories,” and the prosecution’s star witness was a liar.
“There is no evidence of a murder. Conspiracy theories are fun. But you are here as jurors. A defendant is presumed to be innocent. The People have to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a sad case, there’s no question about it, Kristin Smart didn’t come home. All of these kids were college kids drinking at a party. She was kissing a number of different guys, and falling down, and getting drunk. It would be nice to say she was angelic, but the reality is she was engaged in risky behavior,” Sanger said.
Sanger said the prosecution’s star witnesses was Jennifer Hudson, who testified about a chilling murder confession. Hudson testified that Flores told her, “I was at a party with this b**ch d**k tease. All she did was lead me on and I finally had enough of her sh*t so I took care of her.”
Sanger said his client never said that “vile” language about Smart and he never confessed to the murder. “It’s a vile thing to say and evokes passion that causes you to not like Paul Flores,” the defense attorney said. Sanger said Hudson was a drug user and ex-motorcycle gang member who changed her story several times. “Her story was preposterous. There are all sorts of problems with Jennifer Hudson,” Sanger said.
Why would prosecutors use Hudson as a star witness? “So Mr. Peuvrelle could make those vile comments time and time again, so you would hate (Flores). And hope that if there is enough passion and prejudice. You must not let bias, sympathy, passion, or speculation influence your decision. You can’t just say, boy, I don’t like Paul Flores, and I feel sorry for the Smart family, and therefore I’m going to convict,” Sanger told the jury.
Sanger also ripped into the accuracy of cadaver dogs who alerted to the scent of human remains inside Flores’ dorm room. Dog handlers who testified for the trial should not be considered expert witnesses, according to the defense. Sanger said, “There is a lot of junk science that gets into court. There were false alerts and dog behavior all over the place. I don’t want to disparage these people in search in rescue because they are volunteers, it’s a noble thing to do. But this is forensics, this is different.”
In 1996, “Mr. Flores was not arrested because there was not enough evidence to convict him of a crime. In 1996 there was no more or less evidence than you have right now,” Sanger said.
Key Witnesses from the Trial
Hudson was hanging out at a skateboarding ramp in San Luis Obispo in 1996 watching her boyfriend skateboard when an announcement was made on the radio about Smart’s disappearance. Hudson, who was a teenager at the time, said Flores was also hanging out at the ramp and made a chilling confession to her.
Hudson testified that Flores had a “serious, dead look in his eyes” as he told her, “I was at a party with this b**ch d**k tease. All she did was lead me on and I finally had enough of her sh*t so I took care of her.” Prosecutors said Hudson was so terrified that she never told anyone about it until years later.
Alleged rape victims “Jane Does”
Several women were preyed on, drugged, raped, and sodomized by Flores in the years following Smart’s murder, prosecutors said. Investigators found thousands of digital images stored in Flores’ home computers and drives of Flores sexually assaulting unconscious women — some tied up and gagged — in his Los Angeles County home.
“Rhonda Doe” testified that she met 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. 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.
In the days after Smart vanished, campus police zeroed-in on Flores because he was the last person seen with Smart while they were walking back to the dorms from a party. Cal Poly students, including Smart’s close friend Steve Fleming, told police that Flores’ nickname was “Chester the Molester” because of his creepy and overly-aggressive behavior toward female students. Fleming was visibly emotional on the witness stand as he told the jury that he felt like he failed to protect his friend.
Flores told police that he did not find the 6-foot-tall blonde woman attractive. “Like, if someone’s promiscuous, I don’t find them attractive,” Flores told police. But Smart’s friends told police otherwise. Fleming testified that Flores would try to get Smart’s attention but she was “too nice to tell him off.”
Investigators had a hard time believing that someone nicknamed “Chester the Molester” would be turned off by a “promiscuous” young woman at a party. Fleming testified that he would randomly see Flores lurking around Smart’s dorm building in the common area late at night. “He had no business being there, except to hunt Kristin,” Peuvrelle said. After Smart disappeared from Cal Poly, Flores was never seen lurking in the dorm hall again because, “His hunt was over,” Peuvrelle said.
Cadaver dog handlers
Multiple cadaver dogs signaled alerts for detecting scents of human remains inside Flores’ Cal Poly dorm room in Santa Lucia Hall. The dogs were led through several dorm buildings and only alerted for Flores’ room. The judge told the jury Monday that they cannot conclude Flores is guilty based on the cadaver dogs alone. “That is only one factor to consider with all the other evidence. (Prosecutors) must prove each charge and allegation beyond a reasonable doubt,” O’Keefe said.
Tse was Flores’ Cal Poly roommate in Santa Lucia Hall. He was out of town the weekend that Smart vanished. Prosecutors said Flores knew he had three days to get rid of Smart’s body before his roommate returned from Oakland.
When Tse heard that Smart “went missing,” he joked with Flores and said, “You probably did something with her,” Tse testified. Flores replied, “Yeah, she’s at my mom’s house right now,” Tse testified.
Flores’ mother and father lived in separate houses in Arroyo Grande, about 11 miles south of Cal Poly. His father, Ruben Flores, is also on trial and accused of burying Smart’s body in his home’s backyard. The father and son’s trials are happening simultaneously with different juries.
Several witnesses who attended the party testified that Smart was too intoxicated to walk on her own. “Predators are creatures of opportunity,” Peuvrelle said.
Cheryl Anderson was one of two students who walked with Smart and Flores from the party back to campus. Flores assured Anderson that he would make sure Smart made it safely back to her room. Anderson testified that she was “creeped out” by Flores because he tried to kiss her before she parted from the group, but, “I didn’t think anything horrible was going to happen,” to Smart. Anderson testified that when she looked back, she saw Flores leading Smart toward his dorm, Santa Lucia Hall, not Smart’s dorm, Muir Hall.
Detective Mike Kennedy
Kennedy interrogated Flores in May of 1996. Kennedy told the jury that he noticed Flores had a black eye. Flores said he got the black eye while playing basketball with friends, Kennedy testified. A basketball player from the game told investigators that Flores already had the black eye when he arrived to play. Kennedy testified that Flores looked so nervous during the interview, “his heart was beating out of his chest.” Prosecutors said Flores wasn’t able to conceal his nervousness, “because on May 28, where he was being interviewed in his dorm room, just days earlier, Kristin’s lifeless body was laying on his mattress.”
Kristin Smart’s family – Father, mother, and brother
Smart’s mother testified that Smart would always call her family on Sunday to update them on her college life and continue to be her younger sister and brother’s “biggest cheerleader.” Smart left a voicemail message for her mother days before she vanished, saying she had exciting, good news to share during their Sunday family phone calls. Smart’s father testified that he was very close with his daughter and she would never disappear willingly. Smart went to the party on the night of Friday, May 25, 1996. On Sunday, May 27, 1996, her family eagerly waited for a phone call that never came.