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Thursday, August 11, 2022

Prosecutors try to prove 1996 murder with missing body

LOS ANGELES ( Associated Press) – More than 25 years after a college freshman disappeared from a campus on California’s picturesque Central Coast, Kristin Smart’s smiling face still shows off a billboard in front of the law office of attorney James Murphy Jr. .

It once offered a $75,000 bounty for helping find a college student, but these days the billboard simply says: “Justice for Kristin.”

Smart is still missing, but the man seen with her at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo in 1996 is on trial more than a year after he was arrested for murder along with his father, who helped him hide. is accused of doing. Body.

Opening statements are scheduled for Monday at Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas in the trial of Paul Flores and his father, Reuben Flores, who has been charged as an aide. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors said the younger Flores, now 45, killed the 19-year-old during an attempted rape on May 25, 1996, in his dorm room in Cal Poly, where both were first-year students. His father, now 81, reportedly helped bury the slain student behind his home in the nearby community of Arroyo Grande, and later excavated and transferred the remains.

Paul Flores had long been considered a suspect in the murder, but prosecutors arrested him and his father only in 2021, when the investigation resumed.

San Luis Obispo Sheriff Ian Parkinson acknowledged years of mishandling by detectives, and he credits a popular podcast about Smart’s disappearance called “Your Own Backyard” with helping him unearth the new information. and persuasive witness to speak with investigators.

Smart’s remains have never been found and the mystery of how she disappeared from the beautiful complex nestled among a lush coastal mountain range is likely to be at the center of the trial.

Investigators have made dozens of discoveries over two decades, but over the past two years they have turned their attention to the home of Rubén Flores, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of Cal Poly in the community of Arroyo Grande.

Prosecutors said that behind the latticework under the deck of their large home on a dead end street on Tally Ho Road, in March 2021 archaeologists working for police discovered clay about the shape of a coffin and the presence of human blood. Found error.

The blood was too spoiled to extract the DNA sample. While a blood expert said it was human blood, the test used did not rule out the possibility that it was from a ferret or ape, although court records stated that no remains of such an animal had been found.

Murphy, who sued the father and son on behalf of Smart’s parents, scoffed at the idea that it was anything but human blood.

“The size of the area where 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?”

Murphy, the lawsuit filed against Ruben Flores, alleged that “under cover of darkness,” the father and unidentified associates transferred the body in February 2020, four days after investigators searched his home. Investigators did not dig under deck for more than a year. Later

San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Craig Van Rooyen ordered the pair to stand trial after a 22-day preliminary hearing in which he found a “strong suspicion” that the father and son committed the crimes on which Ruben Flores There was a tomb under it. The deck and it once contained the remains of Smart.

Prosecutors, defense attorneys and the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s representative are constrained by a court order preventing them from discussing the case.

Attorney Harold Messick, representing Reuben Flores, previously said the evidence found was unclear. He said the soil below the deck was dumped there after excavation to lay the foundation nearby.

“It was a hot mess because it had been excavated before,” Mesik said. “Even if we call it evidence, it is so little as to shock the conscience.”

Paul Flores was the last person seen with Smart on May 25, 1996, when he walked from an off-campus party to his home, where she was drunk.

When she spoke to the police for the first time three days later, he cut short his conversation with her, saying that she went into his dorm under his own power, though other witnesses said she was out earlier in the night. She had left and Flores helped her walk back. for the premises.

Flores’s eyes darkened when investigators interviewed him. According to court records, he told them he was playing basketball with friends, who denied his account. He later changed his story to say that he banged his head while working on his car.

At a preliminary hearing last year, prosecutors presented evidence that four dead dogs stopped in Flores’ room and became alert to the smell of death near his bed.

Van Rooyen barred prosecutors from presenting evidence alleging that Paul Flores had a history of stalking, inappropriate touching, and aggressive sexual behavior toward women, including allegations that he committed sexual assault in the Los Angeles area. Years after Smart disappeared, four women were drugged and raped. Over the years, women called him “Chester the molester” and “Psycho Paul,” according to a court document.

Van Rooyen ruled in favor of a defense request to move the trial from San Luis Obispo County because it was unlikely that Flores could get a fair trial in a city of nearly 47,000 people with so much notoriety.

The case is taken 110 miles (177 km) north to Salinas, a small town in the agricultural region where John Steinbeck set some of his most famous novels.

Defense attorney Robert Sanger previously said the evidence was the same as it was in the 1990s when Paul Flores was the prime suspect, but never charged with the crime.

“The evidence then and now is based on speculation and not on evidence of facts,” Sengar said in court documents.

Sanger tries to pin the murder to someone else – noting that Scott Peterson, who was later convicted in the sensational trial of murder of his pregnant wife and the fetus she was carrying – was at the time a Cal Poly student. Was also.

Trial judge Jennifer O’Keefe — who is a year younger than Kristin Smart will be today — has, however, held off on suggestions from alternate suspects until Sanger can provide evidence of their direct involvement.

Separate jurors were selected to weigh the evidence against each defendant. The trial is expected to last about four months.

World Nation News Desk
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