Arguments conclude in Flores preliminary hearing; ruling expected Wednesday

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Sep. 21—Attorneys rested their cases Monday in the weekslong preliminary hearing for Paul and Ruben Flores, who are charged in the death of Kristin Smart, the 19-year-old Cal Poly student who went missing on May 25, 1996.

San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle called three witnesses, including Jamilyn Holman, the next-door neighbor of Ruben Flores, who lives in the 700 block of White Court in Arroyo Grande. Investigators believe Smart's body was buried at Ruben Flores' house before it was relocated on Feb. 9, 2020.

Holman talked about taking cell phone pictures of a red SUV with a trailer parked in the driveway of her neighbor's house. Later that night it was parked near the back deck, she said, near a location where an alleged burial site containing human blood was discovered more than a year later during search warrants at the residence.

"The SUV was parked on the side of the house and it was pulled in, instead of backing a trailer in," Holman said, stating that the incident was "unusual" and occurred four days after what she described as an "FBI search" of Ruben Flores residence on Feb. 5, 2020.

Additionally, Holman testified seeing Ruben and Susan Flores, the parents of prime suspect Paul Flores, and Mike McConville, Susan Flores' boyfriend, arguing and yelling profanities near the SUV during an operation in which they allegedly relocated Smart's body.

Paul Flores, 44, of San Pedro is charged with murdering Smart is his dorm room. His father, 80-year-old Ruben Flores, is charged with accessory to murder after the fact and is accused of hiding Smart's body under the backyard deck of his White Court residence.

Paul Flores was allegedly the last person seen with an intoxicated Smart at about 2 a.m. near the intersection of Perimeter Road and Grand Avenue, only steps away from their dorms, after walking back from an off-campus party.

Smart was never seen again. She was declared legally dead in 2002 and her body has never been found.

Paul and Ruben Flores were arrested on April 13 and charged one day later. Both have pleaded not guilty.

The arrests came after search warrants were served at the White Court residence in March and April, and in which ground-penetrating radar, cadaver dogs and an archaeologist were used to identify and excavate alleged burial sites where human blood was found in soil samples.

The preliminary hearing started on Aug. 2 and has included testimony from several K-9 handlers, forensic specialists, Smart's college friends and retired detectives who investigated her disappearance 25 years ago.

Smart's family has attended each day of the hearing, along with Susan Flores, who invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not testify on the first day.

At the hearing's conclusion, Superior Court Judge Craig Van Rooyen will make a ruling on whether to uphold the charges, which is expected to come as soon as Wednesday. After the ruling, the case proceeds to trial.

Orcutt native Chris Lambert is credited with renewing public interest in the case with the "Your Own Backyard" podcast and along the way came into contact with Jennifer Hudson, who finished testimony Monday about two alleged encounters with Paul Flores in the summer following Smart's disappearance in 1996.

In addition, Sheriff's Office Detective Clint Cole testified about his interviews with David Stone, who lived at Ruben Flores' home as a tenant for more than 10 years.

Stone rented a room near where Smart was allegedly buried and said his landlord never allowed anyone to enter the space under the deck, not even a plumber when they were called to make a fix, according to Cole, adding that Stone moved out in January 2020.

"It's not that the public wasn't allowed in, it's that Ruben Flores didn't want to pay the plumber another $150 for something he could fix himself?" asked Harold Mesick, Ruben Flores' attorney. The judge sustained the prosecution's objection over the question.

Holman took the stand last, testifying about the pictures she took of the SUV and the trailer from the roof line of her home, where she has lived since 2013, according to testimony.

Bob Sanger, Paul Flores' attorney, asked how Holman knew it was an FBI search and she remembered hearing about it from a local TV broadcast. She later testified to listening to Lambert's podcast and following the case on the news prior to the 2020 search.

"And the news gets everything right?" Sanger asked.

"Absolutely not," Holman said, shaking her head.

Holman said nothing happened with the photos and didn't think they would be important in the investigation until about a year later, when she was advised to contact investigators.

Upon cross examination from Mesick, Holman testified that a portion of her official statement about what she witnessed — specifically that Ruben Flores worked through the night digging under the deck on Feb. 9, 2020 — is not accurate. Holman clarified never witnessing digging activity.

In his closing statements, Peuvrelle cited Paul Flores' lies about the origins of his black eye and not knowing who Smart was in the initial investigation, and the evidence obtained from the search warrants at the Arroyo Grande residence.

He also cited witness testimony, including from people who saw the two at the Crandall Way party, her friends and Denise Smart, Smart's mother who testified that she was close to her family and about a "good news" message left on the answering machine just before she went missing.

"There's no reason to run out on those relationships," Peuvrelle said. "The truth, your honor, is that she is no longer with us."

In his closing argument, Sanger cited the consistency of his client's statements throughout the investigation, the possibility of other suspects and that the court must examine the evidence "clinically" rather than emotionally.

"We've got a strong suspicion something terrible happened to Kristin Smart," Sanger said. "We don't have a strong suspicion of a crime and that Paul Flores [did it]."

The hearing continues at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday in Superior Court.

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