Pretrial hearings are expected to continue through this week in Salinas
SLO COUNTY — Various motions were heard in the courtroom yesterday during the first pretrial hearing for the trial of Paul and Ruben Flores. The father and son are charged in connection with the 1996 murder and disappearance of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart (19).
Paul and Ruben Flores made their first appearance in the Monterey County Courthouse in Salinas on Monday, June 6. It is the first hearing in the trial since a change of venue motion was granted.
The Smart family was present for the proceedings. Susan Flores, Paul’s mother, was also present, watching from the opposite side of the courtroom.
Smart was last seen with Paul Flores leaving an off-campus party on Crandall Way in San Luis Obispo on May 25, 1996. Although her remains have never been found, Smart was legally declared dead in 2002.
Motions heard on Monday were filed by both the prosecution and defense. One of them was a sealed motion from the defense to dismiss the case.
This was not the first time the defense has attempted to dismiss the case. San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Craig van Rooyen denied the defense’s first attempt for dismissal.
During their first attempt, defense attorneys argued there was insufficient evidence. But on Monday, Paul Flores’s lead attorney, Robert Sanger, called San Luis Obispo County Assistant District Attorney Eric Dobroth to the stand because Dobroth submitted a declaration in the prosecution’s opposition.
The defense’s reason for dismissal stood on the grounds of an incident involving Susan Flores, which happened in May of this year. According to reports, a witness in the case reported on May 27 that Susan was taking photos of the witness’s 8-year-old daughter. Prosecutors stated the photos were taken by Susan Flores looking into the witness’s backyard. However, the defense argued that if the photos were taken, they were taken by Susan driving past the house while in her car while the daughter was in the garage.
Arroyo Grande Police Department responded to the witness’s call and conducted interviews. According to Dobroth, probable cause was found for a search warrant. San Luis Obispo County Judge Jacqueline Duffy asked for the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office to review the warrant before she approved it.
Ultimately, the warrant was approved for cellphone date from May 20-27.
It was discovered on May 24 that there was a brief conversation between the defense and prosecution to potentially settle the case. However, the idea was quickly shut down, according to Sanger.
Sanger alleged the photo report was used by the prosecution to search for conversations between Susan and her family regarding the settlement conversation, which according to the defense, was meant to get Susan to say something about Paul’s involvement in the murder.
Dobroth denied the claims from the defense and presiding Judge Jennifer O’Keefe denied the defense’s motion to dismiss the case.
Information from the cellphone data is currently sealed, and Dobroth requested to unseal the data. O’Keefe said she could not rule on whether or not the data should remain sealed because it is unclear if it falls under her jurisdiction as the incident is separate from the Kristin Smart murder case.
However, according to Dobroth, Susan’s phone is still being investigated and still in the authority’s hands. While no photo was found on the phone, it is still under investigation to determine whether any photos were deleted.
The prosecution’s motion to deny several people as third-party culpability witnesses was approved by O’Keefe.
Two people present at the same 1996 party on Crandall Way and also last seen with Smart will be allowed to testify as witnesses, but not as additional suspects.
Paul and Ruben Flores were arrested at their homes in April 2021, nearly 25 years after Smart’s disappearance.
Paul is charged with Smart’s murder. His father, Ruben, is charged as an accessory after the fact, accused of helping hide Smart’s body. Records show that Paul is now in the custody of the Monterey County Jail. Ruben is currently out on bail.
The next pretrial hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, June 7, at 10:30 a.m., with the official trial scheduled to begin July 6 and run through October.