Kristin Smart was last seen on May 25, 1996 with Paul Flores, who walked the 19-year-old to her dorm at California Polytechnic State University after a party off-campus
Lawyers for a California accused of the murder of a fellow student 26 years ago have claimed that the case is based entirely on rumor and speculation, without any evidence, as the long-awaited trial draws to a close.
Paul Flores, now 45, is accused of killing 19-year-old student Kristin Smart during an attempted rape and hiding her body with the help of his father - and prosecutors on Monday said he was 'guilty as sin'.
Smart and Paul Flores were both students at California Polytechnic when she disappeared in May 1996 after an off-campus party.
On Monday, the long-awaited trial that began in July was inching closer to a verdict - after countless delays and two months of testimony.
Jurors heard closing statements in the case against Paul Flores in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas, California, while a separate jury will hear closing statements for his father Ruben Flores on Tuesday.
Paul Flores is pictured in court during his murder trial. He has denied killing Kristin Smart
Paul Flores, now 45, is charged with murder in the commission of a rape or attempted rape. His father, Ruben Flores, now 81, is charged with accessory after the fact
Robert Sanger, Paul Flores's attorney, is seen speaking on August 3 during the trial
Flores' father, now 81, allegedly helped bury the slain student behind his home in the nearby community of Arroyo Grande and later dug up the remains and moved them.
He has been charged as an accessory. Both men have pleaded not guilty.
Flores did not testify in self-defense.
Monterey County Judge Jennifer O'Keefe told the jury as part of her instructions on Monday to ignore that.
'Do not consider for any reason at all that the defendant did not testify,' she said.
'Do not discuss that in your deliberation.'
Flores, wearing a mask, suit, and tie, sat in silence next to his defense attorney, with his parents Ruben and Susan behind him in the courtroom gallery.
Smart's friends and family were also in the courtroom gallery as well as an overflow courtroom, and visibly recoiled as the judge explained the charges against Flores, including murder with malice, rape, and sodomy by force.
Her body has never been found, but police believe she was buried beneath the deck of the Flores' family home for years. She was declared dead in 2002.
Paul Flores, now 45, is charged with murder in the commission of a rape or attempted rape.
His father, Ruben Flores, now 81, is charged with accessory after the fact
Robert Sanger, defending Paul Flores, on Monday afternoon said there was no evidence against his client, and insisted the case was based on rumor.
'Conspiracy theories can be fun. We love to hear them,' said Sanger.
'We like to watch shows, and you think, 'I bet I know what happened'.
'But you're here as jurors. You took an oath that you would follow the rule of law.'
Sanger picked holes in the witness testimony, noting it had been 26 years since Smart's death, and questioning their memories.
In his closing arguments, Sanger said the prosecution's case was not to showcase evidence, but rather to evoke an emotional prejudice against Paul Flores by using phrases like 'guilty as sin' and quoting witness testimony that says Paul Flores called Smart a 'd*** tease.'
He said the prosecution's 'belief is not relevant, my belief is not relevant — you have to look at the facts.'
The publicity of the case is 'the elephant in the room,' Sanger said, adding that there were people 'inserting themselves' into the case along with extensive news coverage locally and nationally.
'A lot of this had an influence on testimony,' Sanger said.
He also tried to undercut the prosecution's idea of Smart as a young innocent, insisting she was wild.
'It'd be nice to just preserve this idea that everything was fine and she was angelic, but the reality is she engaged in at-risk behavior and you have to interpret how that affects the events that may have transpired,' he said.
'You have a pretty straightforward job. You have to decide whether or not a murder was committed, beyond a reasonable doubt,' Sanger told the jury.
'Short answer – it was not.'
Sanger will conclude his summing up on Tuesday.
Earlier on Monday Christopher Peuvrelle, deputy district attorney, told the jurors that Smart was 'hunted' by Paul Flores for months before her murder, and said he was 'guilty as sin'.
He said that Paul Flores and his father did not join in the community hunt for the missing teenager.
'Now you know where she was all along,' said Peuvrelle. '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.'
Peuvrelle told the court, KRON4 reported, that the jurors should ignore the 26 years it has taken to accumulate evidence and press charges.
'Justice delayed does not have to be justice denied. We know now the truth. The truth is out,' he said.
'The truth is Kristin was plucked off the face of the Earth by Paul Flores.
'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 is expected to finish his closing arguments on Monday lunchtime, and will be followed by closing arguments from Robert Sanger, Paul Flores' attorney.
Paul Flores had long been considered a suspect in the killing, but prosecutors only arrested him and his father in 2021 after the investigation was revived.
Last month, archaeologist Cindy Arrington told jurors that while there was no body beneath suspect Paul Flores' home when they dug up ground, human decomposition stains suggest a body had indeed been buried there at some stage.
She also said the body had likely been 'encapsulated' in either a 'tarp' or a 'coffin or bag' - a graphic detail that prompted tears from one of the jurors.
Investigators think Flores and his father Ruben then moved the corpse once police started closing in on them last year, galvanized by renewed interest in the case that was brought on by a popular podcast called Your Own Backyard.
San Luis Obispo Sheriff Ian Parkinson has acknowledged missteps by detectives over the years and has credited the podcast for helping unearth new information and inspiring witnesses to speak with investigators.
On Friday, its hosts relayed the testimony of archaeologist Cindy Arrington.
'First, we take a close look at the surface to see if there are any signs of disturbance. Then we start removing the soil very slowly,' she said.
'One of the first things that will appear [in a burial] is a stain. Liquids spread out and leave a stain around the remains.'
In March 2021, Arrington's company was contracted by police to excavate beneath the Flores home.
She said they noticed 'an anomaly' - which she described as 'a disturbance in the soil.'
She explained: 'I began to see some staining, inconsistent with the surrounding walls of the hole.
'Some soil had been taken out and put back in. The continuity was jumbled. It tells me there had been a previous hole dug. The staining should have been a nice bowl shape, but was now not. The soil had been disrupted.'
She said she noticed the disruption just 2ft beneath ground level, and that it was obvious someone had dug 'by hand.'
'There were no mechanical marks. It was not machine-dug, but dug by hand,' she said.
Paul and Kristin were both freshmen at Cal Poly in 1996 when she vanished. He was staying in Santa Maria Hall and she was in Muir Hall, which are 0.2miles apart - a four minute walk
The fact that she found no human bones, she said, suggested 'the body was encapsulated in something. A coffin, a tarp, a bag.'
'Fluid was leaking, likely from decomposition. You have an irregular pattern where the soil is darker than the soil within it and out of it.
'Fluid has leaked into the soil slowly over time, not quickly, or the lines would be thicker,' she said.
Investigators have conducted dozens of searches over two decades, but turned their attention in the past two years to Ruben Flores' home about 12 miles south of Cal Poly in the community of Arroyo Grande.
Behind lattice work beneath the deck of his large house on a dead end street off Tally Ho Road, archaeologists working for police in March 2021 found a soil disturbance about the size of a casket and the presence of human blood, prosecutors said.
The blood was too degraded to extract a DNA sample. While a blood expert said it was human blood, the test used did not rule out the possibility it was from a ferret or primate, though court records said no remains of either such animal were found there.
Paul Flores listens during opening statements in his murder trial on July 18 in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas, Calif. He's accused of killing Kristin Smart in 1996
Paul Flores had long been considered a suspect in the killing, but prosecutors only arrested him and his father in 2021 after the investigation was revived. He is pictured on April 13, 2021 being taken into custody
Behind lattice work beneath the deck of his large house on a dead end street off Tally Ho Road, archaeologists working for police in March 2021 found a soil disturbance about the size of a casket and the presence of human blood, prosecutors said
Search warrants for issued for the Arroyo Grande home of Paul Flores' father, Ruben Flores, now 81
Attorney James Murphy Jr., who has sued the father and son on behalf of Smart's parents, scoffed at the idea that it was anything other than human blood.
'The size of the area in which the blood was found would make it a prehistoric ferret that would be in Jurassic Park,' Murphy said.
'When was the last time you drove down Tally Ho Road in Arroyo Grande and saw a primate?'
The lawsuit Murphy filed against Ruben Flores alleged that 'under cover of darkness,' the father and unnamed accomplices moved the body four days after investigators searched his house in February 2020.
Investigators didn't conduct their dig beneath the deck until more than a year later.
San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle told the court on the first day of trial, in July, that while the entire community banded together to search for Kristin desperately, Paul and Ruben Flores did not join in.
'You will hear Ruben Flores would tear down missing posters of Kristin — tore down her smiling beautiful face —called her a 'dirty sl**,' all while her corpse was decomposing underneath his deck.'
Also heard during the trial was a recorded conversation between Paul Flores and his mother Susan Flores.
During the call, the mother tells her son he needed to tell her where they can 'punch holes' in the 'Your Own Backyard' podcast because 'only you can.'
The podcast, which launched in 2020, is credited with helping spark interest in the case.
The younger Flores, Paul, was the last person seen with Smart on May 25, 1996 as he walked her home from an off-campus party.
Flores downplayed his interactions with her when he first spoke with police three days later, saying she walked to her dorm under her own power, though other witnesses said that she had passed out earlier in the night and Flores helped hold her up as they walked back to campus.
Flores had a black eye when investigators interviewed him. He told them he got it playing basketball with friends, who denied his account, according to court records. He later changed his story to say he bumped his head while working on his car.
At the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that four cadaver dogs stopped at Flores' room and alerted to the scent of death near his bed.
Over the years, women called him 'Chester the molester' and 'psycho Paul,' according to a court document.
During the trial, testimony revealed a heartbroken community forever changed by Smart's disappearance and murder.
Her mother, Denise Smart said local police and staff at Polytechnic State University had neglected to find her daughter, forcing the Smart family to spend the past 25 years searching.
Taking the stand at her daughter's murder trial in July, a tearful Denise said: 'I felt like the life of my daughter was of no value to anyone except her family.
'For the next 25 years, I did whatever I could and looked for answers wherever I could', CBS Sacramento reported.
Denise said she contacted police shortly after Kristin failed to call home on Sunday, May 26. Kristin's cheerful call home was a weekly ritual, she said.
That day, Kristin sent her parents an excited voicemail claiming to have good news. They never found out what it was.
Worried Denise had days earlier called the college president, but was redirected to a residential advisor who refused to give any information about Kristin on 'privacy' grounds.
A sheriff at the local San Luis Obispo Police Department then told Denise he had no jurisdiction over the college campus.
Four days after her disappearance, police filed a missing persons report.
Denise showed the courthouse the last letter she wrote to her daughter, dated May 5, in which she warned Kristin not to be financially imprudent.
She advised her daughter to 'get back on track', adding: 'Buckle up, buttercup.'
Denise told the court: 'I never would have thought it was my last letter to write to my daughter.'
Mother Denise (centre) is pictured shortly after the disappearance alongside Kristin's father Stan (second from left), brother Matt (right) and sister Lindsey Smart Stewart (left)
Pictured: A sign asking for information on Smart. The Your Own Back Yard podcast's coverage of her case reignited an investigation and helped bring charges against the Flores men
Paul Flores is shown in an unrelated arrest photo from 1996, when he was 19.
Kristin Smart's former roommate Crystal Teschendorf claimed police didn't take her seriously when she reported the 19-year-old missing twice before police finally filed an official report.
Teschendorf said she and several other residents in the dorm contacted police two days after Smart failed to return to her room, and then, again, two days later when she didn't show up for class, KSBY reported.
'We had talked about possible scenarios of why she would not have come back to the dorms,' Teschendorf said of the concerned students. 'We kind of thought it was unusual.'
She claimed police didn't take her concerns seriously at first, but following the second call on the fourth day of Smart's disappearance, police filed a missing persons report.
Smart was last seen walking back to her dorm by fellow student Paul who is facing murder charges as prosecutors claimed her raped or attempted to rape the 19-year-old.
Testifying about her last interaction with Smart, Teschendorf said her roommate appeared to be in a 'good mood' as they parted ways on Friday, May 24.
When Teschendorf returned to their room, she noticed that Smart's keys and personal belongings that she normally took everywhere were still in the room, untouched, and her roommate was nowhere to be found.
Teschendorf said it was odd because although they weren't particularly close, Smart would usually tell her if she was going to spend the night out of their dorm.
Crystal Teschendorf (pictured), Kristin Smart's former roommate, said she and other students called police twice about Smart's disappearance on May 24, 1996
Pictured: Kristin Smart's room, where all her belongings were left in place after she went missing. A friend claimed he once saw Paul Flores bothering Smart in the room
Teschendorf said she and the other girls in the dorm grew uneasy when none of them heard from Smart as they decided to make their first call to police on Sunday, May 26.
When cross-examined by Paul's defense attorney, Robert Sanger, Teschendorf added that neither she nor Smart had been drinking alcohol when they were together before her disappearance.
Now, after months of testimony, two juries will hear separate closing statements for the two men before deciding their fate.
One jury is hearing closing statements for the case against Paul Flores on Monday. And then a separate jury will hear closing statements for the case against Ruben Flores on Tuesday.
Immediately after closing statements, jurors will head to the deliberation room, the judge said last week.
If the statements last until the end of the day, then the jurors will return the next day to deliberate.
Whichever jury finishes deliberation first will seal their decision and hand it over to the court clerk. The judge made clear that the jurors are not to speak about the case or verdict to anyone.
When the second jury is finished with deliberations and has reached a verdict, the first jury will have 40 minutes to get to the courthouse.
At that time, the verdicts will each be read separately.
Kristin Smart timeline: From California college student's 1996 disappearance to 2022 murder trial
Kristin Smart, 19, of Stockton, California vanished. The California Polytechnic State University freshman was last seen around 2 a.m. on May 25 when she walked back to her to her dorm room after an off-campus party in San Luis Obispo. Paul Flores, her classmate who walked her home from the party, was the last person she was seen with. Smart never returned to her dorm and was reported missing to the Cal Poly Police Department on May 28.Prosecutors would later say that Flores killed Smart while trying to rape her in his dorm room.
Three cadaver dogs lead investigators to the dorm of 19-year-old Paul Flores during a search. The dogs, which are trained to pick up the smell of human remains, alerted to the corner of a mattress on Flores side of the room.
Smart was declared legally dead. But her family vowed to get justice.
Ian Parkinson became the San Luis Obispo County sheriff. He requested a complete review of all the evidence in relation to Kristin Smart's missing person case.
There are new leads in the investigation and official excavate a hillside on the Cal Poly campus and cadaver dogs are used to search for Smart's remains.A San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's spokesman says investigators uncovered some 'items of interest'
New witnesses were interviewed which led detectives to securing a court order to monitor Paul Flores' cellphone activity.
A podcast launched by Chris Lambert, 'Your Own Backyard,' brought renewed attention to case. He was later praised by San Luis Obispo Sheriff Ian Parkinson for his help bringing attention to the case.
Officials obtain four search warrants for Paul Flores. Two of the warrants were served in San Luis Obispo, another in Los Angeles County and the fourth one in the state of Washington. Investigators said the warrants were for very specific items.
Evidence from previous search warrants led detectives to serve an additional warrant at Paul's home. During the search, officials said they found evidence related to the murder of Smart.
Search warrants for issued for the Arroyo Grande home of Paul Flores' father, Ruben Flores, 80.Investigators used cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar to search the home.
Both Paul Flores and his father Ruben Flores were arrested in connection to Smart's murder.Paul Flores, who had been longtime person of interest in Smart's disappearance case, was named the prime suspect in the case.
April 14, 2021
San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow said that Smart was killed during an attempted rape by Paul Flores in his dorm room and his father helped hide her body.
April 19, 2021
Paul Flores and Ruben Flores plead not guilty in connection with Smart's disappearance.
July 18, 2022
Opening statements begin. Paul and Ruben Flores are being tried separately, but at the same time, with two different juries.
October 3, 2022
After nearly three months of testimony, delays, closing statements will begin on Monday in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas, California. Jurors will hear closing statements in the case against Paul Flores on Monday, while a separate jury will hear closing arguments in the case of Ruben Flores on Tuesday. Immediately after closing statements, jurors will head to the deliberation room. Whichever jury finishes first will seal its decision and give it to the court clerk. Each verdict will be read separately.