After hearing 11 weeks of evidence and a series of heated closing arguments, jurors on Tuesday began to deliberate on whether to convict Paul Flores of the 1996 murder of Cal State San Luis Obispo student Kristin Smart. .
“Paul Flores murdered her and buried her under her father’s bridge. It’s as simple as that,” the San Luis Obispo County Deputy District said. Atti. Chris Peuvrelle said in his closing arguments in a Salinas courtroom.
Flores’ attorney, Robert Sanger, ended his closing arguments by telling the jurors that “there is no evidence of a murder – so this is really the end of it”.
Smart was 19 when she disappeared 26 years ago after walking to the dorms with Flores. Her body was never found, but she was legally declared dead in 2002.
His disappearance and the ensuing murder investigation left an indelible mark on the Central Coast college town. Billboards asked for evidence to convict his killer. The murder was the subject of a true crime podcast. And that spawned a cottage industry of investigators.
Peuvrelle said Flores, 45, raped or attempted to rape – and ultimately killed – Smart before hiding his remains with the help of his father.
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Detectives arrested Flores at his San Pedro home in April 2021, decades after identifying him as a person of interest in Smart’s disappearance.
Her father, Ruben Flores, was arrested last year at his home in Arroyo Grande, California, and charged with being an accessory to the crime. Prosecutors say he helped hide Smart’s body before moving him to 2020.
Peuvrelle told jurors that Flores and her father knew where Smart’s body was all those years ago.
“But now you know where she was all along: under their bridge,” Peuvrelle told jurors, pointing to Paul and Ruben Flores.
Ruben Flores, 81, is tried at the same time as his son. Separate juries who hear the case together decide the fate of each.
Sanger told jurors they were told “a bunch of conspiracy theories not backed up by facts” by a prosecutor determined to make them hate Paul Flores.
Peuvrelle, he claimed, had witnesses testify about remarks that Flores never made about Smart.
“He’s trying to initiate a murder when there’s no evidence of murder,” Sanger said.
Peuvrelle refuted that claim on Tuesday, saying, “The people’s case is not a conspiracy theory.”
He added, sarcastically: “So some 50 witnesses spanning 26 years are part of the conspiracy.”
Among the witnesses, the prosecutor noted, were three police dog handlers who said their cadaver dogs each searched more than 120 rooms in the dormitory for Flores’ room and reported that they detected the scent of death.
Peuvrelle told jurors that Paul Flores should be convicted under the state’s criminal murder law since he allegedly committed the murder in his dorm as part of a rape or attempted rape of an intoxicated person.
A San Luis Obispo County judge previously ordered that the Flores trials be moved more than 100 miles north of Monterey County to ensure a fair trial.
Smart was last seen on May 25, 1996, while walking with Flores near the halls of residence on campus after attending a party.
Peuvrelle told jurors that Flores, another Cal Poly student, had “hunted” her for months, frequently appearing wherever she was, including in her dorm.
On the night of the party, he came out of the dark to help her get home after she passed out on a lawn after drinking heavily, the prosecutor said.
Two women testified last month that Flores drugged and raped them decades after Smart disappeared.
The women used the aliases Sarah Doe and Rhonda Doe, and alleged that Flores sexually assaulted them in Los Angeles in 2008 and 2011, respectively.
Peuvrelle called Flores a “serial drug addict” and a rapist.
“Sarah Doe and Rhonda Doe,” he said, “tell us what Kristin couldn’t: that she was raped or that Paul Flores tried to rape her.”
The prosecutor said Flores offered to take the women home after meeting them, only to drug and repeatedly rape them in his home.
Showing the jury an image found on Flores’ computer of a gagged woman, Peuvrelle added that both witnesses had testified that they, too, had been restrained with the same ball gag.
During his closing arguments, Sanger attempted to undermine the two women’s testimony, noting that Rhonda Do attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1996 and 1997, when Smart’s disappearance received much publicity. He said it was too much of a coincidence that she came forward with rape allegations in 2020.
Since the trial began in July, Peuvrelle said that during a four-day period that Flores was not seen on campus, he removed Smart’s body with the help of his father and buried it. under the bridge of his father’s Arroyo Grande house.
Ruben Flores, according to the prosecutor, kept people away from the bridge for years. A neighbor testified that in 2020, as police focused on the home, she saw a flurry of activity as a trailer backed onto the property.
A soil scientist and archaeologist testified that ground radar showed an anomaly in the ground and indications of bodily fluids that were consistent with a body having been buried and removed.
Blood was detected there, the prosecutor repeatedly told jurors.
Sanger refuted that claim, telling jurors on Tuesday that the blood detection was based on “junk science.” He said it was one of multiple allegations in the prosecution case, including dogs smelling death, that had no forensic evidence to back them up.
Sanger told jurors that activists determined to convict Flores, as well as a true-crime podcast, “Your Own Backyard,” which revealed potential witnesses, swayed the prosecution.
Absent evidence that Smart was raped or that Flores attempted to rape her, jurors should not consider the testimony of Sarah Doe and Rhonda Doe, Sanger said.
He said a key prosecution witness, Jennifer Hudson, who said Paul Flores confessed to him about killing Smart, offered different versions of his story and waited many years to come forward.
The judge on Tuesday denied a motion to have the trial dismissed by Flores’ attorney.
Sanger said the prosecutor erred in telling jurors they had a “binary choice” between the evidence presented by prosecutors and the defense. The burden of proof, he noted, is on the prosecution to prove its case.
The second jury will hear closing statements in the Ruben Flores case on Wednesday.
The judge said the two verdicts will be read together. Once the first jury decision is made, it will stand until the other jury renders a verdict.
Los Angeles Times