SALINAS, Calif. (KRON) — In the wake of Kristin Smart’s disappearance from Cal Poly’s campus, detectives knew Paul Flores was “lying through his teeth,” according to prosecutors.
Flores and Smart were both 19-year-old freshmen Cal Poly students who attended the same party the night she vanished, on May 25, 1996. Flores is charged with murdering Smart as he attempted to rape her in his dorm room.
During opening statements of Flores’ murder trial this week, prosecutors played a video of Flores stumbling over questions from Cal Poly campus police detectives inside an interrogation room. The interrogation was recorded just days after Smart’s college friends alerted police that she was missing.
Flores admitted he promised another student, Cheryl Anderson, that he would make sure Smart made it back to her dorm room in Muir Hall safely from the party. According to multiple party-goers, Smart was “incapacitated” — unable to walk or stand on her own — because of something she drank at the party, Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle told the jury.
Flores attempted to kiss Anderson before she walked away around 2:30 a.m. She refused his advances because she was “creeped out,” Peuvrelle said. When Anderson looked back one last time at Flores and Smart, she saw that he was leading Smart toward his dorm, Santa Lucia Hall, not Muir Hall, the prosecutor told the jury.
“She made a decision that she’s regretted ever since. She was the last person other than Paul Flores to see Kristin alive. She saw Paul taking Kristin toward his dorm to the left,” the prosecutor said. Flores’ roommate was out of town that weekend, and “Paul knew he had three full days in that room (alone),” Peuvrelle told the jury.
“What happened in the privacy of his room that night?” Peuvrelle asked the jury.
Flores only made one phone call the weekend Smart disappeared, according to prosecutors. He called his father at 9:47 a.m. on Sunday, May 26, 1996. Flores’ father is now charged with helping cover up the homicide by burying Smart’s body in his Arroyo Grande home’s backyard.
During one interrogation with campus police on May 28, 1996, Flores’ story changed about what happened after Anderson left. First, he told detectives that Smart was having difficulty walking on her own. Later, he told detectives that Smart was walking just fine and returned to her dorm while he returned to his dorm.
“The detective noticed was Paul was nervous and his heart was beating out of his chest. He claimed he didn’t even know her name,” Peuvrelle said.
Flores allegedly told campus police, “I did not find Kristin attractive. Not at all. I had zero interest in her,” according to prosecutors.
“Paul Flores was lying through his teeth to law enforcement,” Peuvrelle told the jury.
Flores told campus police that he never talked to Smart at the house party, but multiple witnesses who were at the party saw the two talking together next to a tiki bar inside the house. Prosecutors said Smart began falling down shortly after she was seen at the Tiki bar with Flores. Witnesses said she didn’t smell like alcohol, but she quickly became so “incapacitated” that she passed out face-down on the house’s front lawn.
Around 2 a.m., party-goer Tim Davis told Smart that she could not spend the night passed out on the party house’s front lawn because it was too cold. Davis was helping Smart get up to her feet with Anderson when Flores suddenly appeared “out from the darkness,” Peuvrelle said.
After the four students had walked about halfway back to the dorms, Paul Flores told Davis and Anderson, “Don’t worry I got her, I’ll take her from here,” according to prosecutors.
Detectives asked Flores about a visible black eye on his face. Flores said he suffered the black eye during a basketball game he played with friends in Arroyo Grande on Monday. But Flores’ basketball friends told investigators that he already had the black eye when he showed up for the game.
In the interrogation video played for the jury, detectives can be heard asking Flores, “If anybody lies as much as you have, about something as serious as this is, what does that tell you?”
Flores replies that he was just “fibbing.” “I don’t know of any lying I’ve done. It’s a fib. It’s not a lie. I guess you can call it little white lies,” Flores told detectives.
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.
In June of 1996, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office brought in four cadaver dogs to sniff dorms on campus. The dogs were trained and certified to detect human remains. All four dogs, including one who was considered “the best of the best,” separately signaled an alert indicating the presence of human remain odors only in Flores’ room.
The dogs’ handler said one dog “went screaming down the hallway, made a U-turn, and stopped right in front of (Flores’) dorm room,” the prosecutor said. Once the dogs were let inside the room, they alerted to a corner of Flores’ bed mattress. Deputies seized a mattress cover from the bed with a blood stain.
Smart’s body has never been found. Despite identifying a prime suspect for her murder, law enforcement did not arrest Flores until 2021.
Flores’ defense attorney, Robert Sanger, told the jury, “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.
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.
Sanger said the backyard “grave” was not at grave at all, and no human blood, hair, or bones were found in it. According to the defense, a forensics expert said if it was a grave, “you would find hairs, bones, and a big change in the soil composition. There was no change in the soil consistent with that.”
The murder trial began on Monday with opening statements from prosecutors and Flores’ defense attorney. His father, Ruben Flores, is also on trial because investigators charged him with hiding Smart’s body. Ruben Flores’ defense attorney is slated to deliver his opening statements when the two trials resume on Thursday in a Monterey County courtroom.