Last person seen with Kristin Smart in 1996 was heading to trial
LOS ANGELES (AP) – The last person seen with Kristin Smart before her disappearance from a college campus 25 years ago on the central California coast will be tried for murder in her presumed death and her father will be tried as an accomplice for allegedly helping bury her body, a judge ruled Wednesday.
San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Craig van Rooyen said there was probable cause Paul Flores, 44, killed Smart and Ruben Flores, 80, helped get rid of his body, which has never been found.
The decision was greeted with hiccups from the gallery where Smart’s parents were seated with other family members and supporters, The Tribune reported.
Paul Flores was the last person seen with a very drunk Smart on May 25, 1996, as he helped escort her back to her dorm at California Polytechnic State University after a party, witnesses said. Prosecutors said he killed Smart while trying to rape her in her dorm.
Prosecutors presented evidence that Smart’s body had previously been buried under a trellis-protected bridge behind Ruben Flores’ house. Prosecutors said the body was moved from there and was never located.
Traces of human blood were found under the bridge along with stains in the ground and a disturbance of the earth the size of a human body, witnesses said.
With a lack of DNA, “nothing definitively links it to Ms Smart,” said van Rooyen, but this leads to “a strong suspicion that these were Ms Smart’s remains.”
Defense attorneys said prosecutors did not present enough evidence during a 22-day preliminary hearing to substantiate the criminal charges. But van Rooyen said there was probable cause, a lower standard of proof than beyond a reasonable doubt, that prosecutors will have to prove at trial.
Both men pleaded not guilty.
During the preliminary hearing, prosecutors also presented evidence that four cadaver dogs stopped in Flores’ room and alerted to the smell of death near her bed.
Van Rooyen blocked prosecutors from presenting evidence alleging that Paul Flores drugged and raped four women and engaged in dozens of acts, including stalking, unwanted touching and aggressive sexual behavior.
Some women have told police that Flores is known as âChester the abuserâ and âpsycho Paul,â according to a court document filed by prosecutors.
The judge said the evidence was of limited relevance to the murder case and risked creating increased harm against Flores.
When Flores first spoke to the police, he played down his interactions with Smart at the party and on the way home. He said she made her way to her dorm on her own, although other witnesses said Flores was helping her stand and that she had passed out earlier that night.
Three days after Smart disappeared, Flores had one black eye which he told police he was playing basketball. Friends disputed this account and Flores then changed his story to say that it happened while he was working on his car.
Van Rooyen said Flores’ comments about the black eye showed “guilt awareness”.
William Hanley, head of the district attorney’s investigative office in 1996, said Flores eventually stopped cooperating with authorities.
When Hanley asked Flores what he thought happened to Smart, he said she was probably gone with someone and “he thinks she’s dead,” Hanley said.
Copyright Â© The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.