SALINAS, Calif. (KRON) — The mystery of what investigators believe happened to Cal Poly student Kristin Smart when she vanished from San Luis Obispo was described in detail by prosecutors for opening statements Monday.
The man on trial, Paul Flores, murdered 19-year-old Smart while he attempted to rape her in his dorm room on May 25, 1996, prosecutors told the jury.
Smart was last seen alive as she was walking from an off-campus party back to her dorm with help from three other students. Two of the students broke away from the group, leaving Smart with Flores.
Both students said, to this day, they regret their decision to leave the college freshman behind before she made it all the way to her dorm room, according to Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle. Smart was “incapacitated” — unable to walk or stand on her own — because of something she drank at the party, the prosecutor said.
Flores has a history of slipping drugs into women’s drinks at parties and bars before sexually assaulting them, according to the prosecution. Peuvrelle told the jury about three women who were drugged at bars, taken back to Flores’ home, and raped, within the past decade. Flores was not arrested for Smart’s murder until 2021, and he allegedly continued preying on women up until he was finally taken into custody.
Flores’ father, Ruben Flores, is charged with hiding Smart’s body in the backyard of his Arroyo Grande home to help coverup the killing and protect his son.
One of Kristin’s closest college friends, Steve Fleming, noticed that Paul Flores would linger around Smart’s dorm hall even though he didn’t live there. “He noticed Paul Flores would randomly walk through the halls of Muir Dorm. Paul would try to get Kristin’s attention and she was too nice to tell him off. She was too kind-hearted. 1996 was before the #MeToo movement,” Peuvrelle told the jury.
Smart’s friend, Margarita Campos, saw Paul Flores being “unnaturally interested in Kristin,” Peuvrelle said.
“He would stare at their group (of friends). He made their group uncomfortable. But Kristin was too nice,” Peuvrelle said.
Smart’s body has never been found. Investigators believe her body was moved out of a grave hidden in Ruben Flores’ home’s backyard to an unknown location just before deputies served a search warrant on the house in 2020.
Paul Flores and Ruben Flores have pleaded not guilty. Even though their trials were separated, the trials are happening simultaneously with two juries in the same courtroom.
Prosecution: Opening Statements by Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle
“1,359 Sundays have passed since May 26 of 1996. Stan and Denise sent their oldest daughter Kristin to college at Cal Poly. During her freshman year, they looked forward to every Sunday a cheerful phone call from her. But on May 26, 1996, while the Smart family waited for that call, Paul Flores was calling his dad, Ruben Flores, for help,” Peuvrelle told the jury.
“This is a 25-year investigation. It’s a case about perseverance that led detectives ultimately, in 2021, to a burial site underneath the deck of Ruben Flores’ house. The evidence will show that Kristin was murdered by Paul Flores, and that Paul and Ruben buried her under Ruben Flores’ deck,” Peuvrelle told the jury.
“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.
Peuvrelle said just days after Smart was reported missing, Paul Flores attended a graduation party for Arroyo Grande High School students. A mother was recording video of the party when she panned the camera over to Paul Flores and asked him, “Hey Paul, what do you know about that missing girl? What did you do to her?”
Paul Flores replied, “nothing,” and turned away from the camera. Prosecutors played the eerie video for the jury.
Smart had a close relationship with her father, Stan.
“Stan spent hundreds of hours searching virtually every corner of San Luis Obispo looking for his daughter.
He went to 710 White Court in the City of Arroyo Grande, where Ruben lives to this day. That summer of 1996, Stan went to that house desperately looking for his daughter. What did Ruben tell him? ‘You better get out of here or somebody might get shot,'” Peuvrelle told the jury.
Kristin Smart made her last phone call to her parents on Friday, May 24, 1996. Smart sounds “ecstatic” in the voicemail message, saying she has “good news” that she will tell her parents about during their usual Sunday phone call, Peuvrelle said.
“Stan and Denise will never know what that good news was,” Peuvrelle said.
Investigators were able to confirm that Smart never made it back to her dorm after the party because her roommate’s friends “crashed” in Smart’s room that night until the following morning. The roommate’s friends never saw Smart return, and all of her belongings remained untouched on her side of the room.
“We know Kristin never made it home that night. Her makeup bag, hair brush, credit cards … all of the stuff she would take if she was going away for a weekend, were all there … untouched. All Kristin had were literally the clothes on her back,” Peuvrelle told the jury.
Smart’s roommate and friends called police.
Defense: Opening Statements by Defense Attorney Robert Sanger
“This obviously is a tragic situation in one sense or another. It is believed she is deceased, but there is no evidence of what happened to her after Paul Flores left her. This is about the facts. Facts will show law enforcement was aware that they did not have a case. They are aware that they had no eye witnesses, a body was not recovered, there is no physical evidence, and no forensic evidence,” Sanger said.
“The fact is, there is a lot of ‘sort of evidence.’ I say that because you will see, when you actually listen to what comes out, it’s not what it seems to be,” Sanger said.
“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. She told people that she was a model, worked for Roxy, the company that made the short shorts she was wearing that night with a crop top. She did not,” Sanger told the jury.
“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.
After Smart never returned from the party, her friends alerted Cal Poly campus police. News of the missing college student spread.
“There was a concerted media campaign in San Luis Obispo. There was a poster posted all over the place that said, ‘Wanted: Paul Flores’ and it listed his father’s address. For the past 25 years, Ruben Flores has been essentially assaulted in his own home. People yell, chant. (Ruben Flores) was being assailed by the media and billboards. There has been quite a bit of pressure on this family for 25 years. And Mrs. Flores (Paul Flores’ mother) was also subject to vigils, honking, continually,” Sanger said.