Jury begins deliberating fate of defendant Paul Flores in Kristin Smart murder trial

After 11 weeks of evidence and a series of fiery closing arguments, the jury Tuesday began considering whether to convict Paul Flores of the 1996 murder of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Kristin Smart.

“Paul Flores murdered her and buried her under his father’s deck. It’s that simple,” said the Deputy Dist. atty Chris Peuvrelle said in his closing arguments in a courtroom in Salinas.

Flores attorney Robert Sanger ended his closing arguments by telling the jury that “there is no evidence of murder – so this is really the end.”

Smart was 19 when she disappeared 26 years ago after going to the dorms with Flores. Her body was never found, but she was legally pronounced dead in 2002.

Her disappearance and the subsequent murder investigation left an indelible mark on the college town on the Central Coast. Billboards asked for evidence to convict their killer. The murder was the subject of a true crime podcast. And it spawned a cottage industry of investigators.

Peuvrelle said Flores, 45, raped or attempted to rape — and eventually killed — Smart before hiding her 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 someone interested in Smart’s disappearance.

His father, Ruben Flores, was arrested at his home in Arroyo Grande, California last year and charged with crime as an accessory. Prosecutors say he helped hide Smart’s body before moving it in 2020.

Peuvrelle told the jury that Flores and his father had known where Smart’s body was for all those years.

“But now you know where she was all this time: under her deck,” Peuvrelle told jurors as he pointed to Paul and Ruben Flores.

Ruben Flores, 81, is being tried at the same time as his son. Separate juries hearing the case together decide each man’s fate.

Sanger told jurors they were told “a bunch of conspiracy theories not supported by facts” by a prosecutor to make them hate Paul Flores.

Peuvrelle, he claimed, had witnesses testify to remarks Flores had never made about Smart.

“He’s trying to solve a murder where there’s no evidence of murder,” Sanger said.

Peuvrelle dismissed that claim on Tuesday, saying: “The fall of the people is not a conspiracy theory.”

He added sarcastically, “So about 50 witnesses from 26 years are part of the conspiracy.”

Among the witnesses, the prosecutor noted, were three police dog handlers who testified that their cadaver dogs had each visited Flores’s room out of more than 120 dorm rooms and signaled that they had smelled the smell of death.

Peuvrelle told jurors that Paul Flores should be found guilty under the state murder statute because he allegedly committed the murder in his dorm room as part of a rape or attempted rape by a drunk person.

A San Luis Obispo County judge earlier ordered the Flores trials to be moved more than 100 miles north to Monterey County to ensure fair trials.

Smart was last seen on May 25, 1996, walking near the dormitories on campus after a party with Flores.

Peuvrelle told jurors that Flores, a fellow Cal Poly student, “hunted” her for months and frequently showed up wherever she was, including her dorm room.

On the night of the party, he emerged from the darkness to help her walk home after she passed out in a meadow from drinking heavily, the prosecutor said.

Two women testified last month that Flores drugged and raped them decades after Smart’s disappearance.

The women used the pseudonyms Sarah Doe and Rhonda Doe and claimed that Flores sexually assaulted them in Los Angeles in 2008 and 2011, respectively.

Peuvrelle called Flores a “serial drug” and 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 drive the women home after a meeting, only to have them drugged at his home and repeatedly raped them.

Peuvrelle showed the jury an image of a gagged woman found on Flores’ computer, adding that the two witnesses testified that they too were held with the same ball gag.

During his closing arguments, Sanger tried to undermine the testimony of the two women who noted that Rhonda Do attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1996 and 1997, when Smart’s disappearance attracted much attention. He said it was too much of a coincidence that she made rape allegations in 2020.

Since the trial began in July, Peuvrelle has said that during a four-day period when Flores was not seen on campus, he removed Smart’s body with the help of his father and buried it under the patio of his father’s home in Arroyo Grande.

Ruben Flores, according to the prosecutor, kept people off the deck for years. A neighbor testified that in 2020, when police focused on the house, she saw a lot of activity when a trailer parked in front of the property.

A soil scientist and archaeologist testified that ground-penetrating radar showed an anomaly in the soil and evidence of bodily fluids consistent with a buried and removed body.

The prosecutor’s office repeatedly told the jury that blood was found there.

Sanger denied that claim, telling jurors Tuesday that the blood test was based on “junk science.” He said it was one of several allegations in the prosecution’s case, including dogs smelling an odor of death, that had no forensic evidence to support it.

Sanger told jurors that activists were keen to convict Flores and that a true crime podcast, Your Own Backyard, which was emerging as potential witnesses, swayed prosecutors.

Without evidence that Smart was raped or that Flores attempted to rape her, the jury should not consider Sarah Doe and Rhonda Doe’s testimonies, Sanger said.

He added that a key prosecution witness, Jennifer Hudson, who testified that Paul Flores had admitted to her that he killed Smart, had offered different versions of her story and waited many years before coming forward.

The judge on Tuesday denied a request for a trial by Flores’ lawyer.

Sanger said the prosecutor erred when he told the jury they had a “binary choice” between the prosecutors’ evidence and the defense’s. The burden of proof, he noted, is on the prosecution to prove their case.

The second jury will hear closing words on the Ruben Flores case on Wednesday.

The judge said both sentences would be read together. After the first jury decision is made, it is held until the other jury renders a verdict.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-10-04/jury-begins-deliberating-accused-killer-paul-flores-fate-in-kristin-smart-murder-trial Jury begins deliberating fate of defendant Paul Flores in Kristin Smart murder trial

Alley Einstein

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