Jury deliberations begin in Kristin Smart murder trial

The case against Paul Flores is now in the jury’s hands after closing arguments in the Kristin Smart murder trial concluded Tuesday.

Jury deliberations began late Tuesday afternoon after Paul Flores’ defense attorney, Robert Sanger, motioned for a mistrial — again.

Sanger’s motion followed a passionate rebuttal argument from San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Chris Peuvrelle, who said the defense attorney made “so many misstatements of fact I lost count.”

Flores is on trial for the 1996 murder of Smart with his father, Ruben Flores, who is accused of helping his son conceal the crime, for more than three months.

Peuvrelle finished his closing arguments Monday, claiming Paul Flores is “guilty as sin.”

Ruben Flores’ jury heard its juror instructions Tuesday following the close of Paul Flores’ closing statements. Closing arguments in his trial will begin Wednesday morning.

Verdicts in the case will not be read until both juries return from deliberations.

Robert Sanger, Paul Flores’ defense attorney conducts closing arguments for the Kristin Smart murder trial Monday, Oct. 3, 2022.
Robert Sanger, Paul Flores’ defense attorney conducts closing arguments for the Kristin Smart murder trial Monday, Oct. 3, 2022.

Defense attorney continues to press on validity of dog alerts

Testimony began Tuesday morning with Sanger discussing concerns with the accuracy of dog alerts — including a juror question of whether cadaver dogs might alert to vomit.

Sanger said he has never received a juror question in closing arguments, and wasn’t sure if he should address it, but the question prompted him to check his notes and correct a statement he made Monday about whether cadaver dogs will alert to vomit.

On Monday, Sanger said Adela Morris, a dog handler who specializes in human remains detection and who testified during the trial, said dogs would alert to vomit, but the reality is, according to his notes, she was unsure if the dogs would alert to the scent of vomit in the room.

He also pointed out the prosecution did not present evidence explaining what organic compounds dogs can smell — claiming that that casts doubt upon the alerts dogs made.

“The prosecution knew Paul Flores went to his room and threw up a little bit, and they had a dog handler testify to things,” Sanger said. “We know there’s false alerts — they’re reluctant to agree — but we’ve seen the false alerts in this case.”

Sanger said that he and Peuvrelle may make inaccurate statements during their closing arguments, but their words are meant to only guide jurors to what evidence they should evaluate. It’s not meant to be taken as fact.

“The point I really want to make is whatever we say, we say in good faith, but ultimately it’s your job — a tough one — to sit down after weeks of trial and figure out what this is all about,” Sanger said.

Judge Jennifer O’Keefe listens during closing arguments in the Kristin Smart murder trial on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022.
Judge Jennifer O’Keefe listens during closing arguments in the Kristin Smart murder trial on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022.

‘Absolutely no evidence’ Flores raped Smart, defense attorney says

Next, Sanger attempted to break down the prosecution’s allegation that Smart was murdered in the course of an attempted sexual assault, saying there was “absolutely no evidence” or rape or attempted rape.

“Not trying to mislead you, just giving you things I think are important at this point,” Sanger said.

Sanger noted that the testimony provided by two women claiming to have been sexually assaulted by Flores was about “uncharged acts” — essentially alleged crimes for which Flores hasn’t been tried, and therefore which haven’t been proven.

Sanger said the testimonies of Sarah Doe and Rhonda Doe were included so that Peuvrelle could say “as many time as he could” that Flores is a rapist and predator.

Their testimony also included mention of a red ball gag they said Flores used to rape them — a detail that can be corroborated by a screenshot of a homemade video of a woman on Paul Flores’ bed, with her eyes closed and a red ball gag lodged in her mouth.

Sanger said it is not a crime to own a sex toy and questioned why that detail was relevant to the trial.

Sanger also attempted to cast doubt on Rhonda Doe’s testimony in particular, saying she attended Cal Poly in 1996 and 1997 “with all that publicity” focused on Smart’s disappearance and Flores’ alleged involvement.

“It’s too much of a coincidence,” Sanger said.

The defense attorney also said Sarah Doe’s Facebook posts about alcohol also called her testimony into question, especially because she did not come forward until 2020.

According to Sarah Doe’s testimony, she had tried to report the alleged assault a few years after and was shrugged off, then was identified by the Los Angeles Police Department in 2020 in an investigation in connection to the case.

Sanger said if the alleged assaults did occur, it’s “bad behavior” and a crime, but that the evidence can only be considered in this case if there is also evidence that Paul Flores raped or attempted to rape Kristin Smart beyond a reasonable doubt.

He said the ball gag photo was used to only prove Paul Flores owned a red ball gag, and that it isn’t a crime to own a sex toy. He added that he wasn’t sure what colors ball gags typically come in.

“Now the real question is how many other people knew that information about the ball gag — who knows?” Sanger said.

Paul Flores listens during closing arguments in the Kristin Smart murder trial on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022.
Paul Flores listens during closing arguments in the Kristin Smart murder trial on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022.

Paul Flores defense attorney questions witness testimony

Sanger then began noting the inconsistencies he saw between the witness testimonies and the prosecution’s story of how Flores murdered Smart.

Sanger said the witnesses, who were young students in the dorm at the time of Smart’s disappearance, “had a lot of time to talk” about the case and speculate about it in the coming years.

He noted that witness Vanessa Shield didn’t mention Flores during her first interview with the FBI after Smart disappeared, but then in 2022 mentions him for the first time to law enforcement.

Sanger similarly called into question the testimony of witnesses like Steve Fleming, who testified to seeing Flores in Smart’s room. Fleming testified he did not immediately go to police with his information because he was scared of them as a person of color — something Sanger claimed was false.

Sanger also said that testimony from those at the party where Smart was last seen was inconclusive.

During his closing arguments Sanger attempted to paint a picture of Smart as a drunk college student attending a party, going up to men and kissing people like Trevor Boelter, who also testified during the trial.

Sanger then noted that throughout the investigation into Smart’s disappearance, Flores’ story never changed beyond the question of how he got a black eye.

“Paul Flores has never changed his story,” Sanger said. “They try to push him, and the only thing that’s not consistent is the black eye.”

Sanger said Flores was polite and helpful throughout the investigation, despite attempts by law enforcement to catch him in lies or get him to confess.

“This case was not prosecuted for all these years because there’s no evidence,” Sanger said. “It’s sad Kristin Smart disappeared, and she may have gone out on her own, but who knows? It’s sad. Something happened to her. It’s unfortunate. But what was it?”

Kristin Smart
Kristin Smart

Defense attorney: Prosecution’s evidence is ‘junk science’

Sanger told jurors they could not rely on any of the prosecution’s forensic evidence because it amounted to “junk science.”

He said the validity of the blood test used by forensic DNA analyst Angela Butler, who works for the Serological Research Institute, was not proven and that “no one knows” what component in the soil from underneath Ruben Flores’ deck made the tests react positive for human blood.

“Angela Butler was a nice enough person. She had a little bit of a personality change when she came back for rebuttal. I don’t know what prompted that,” Sanger said of Butler’s demeanor during her testimonies.

He said everything Butler knew about the science of the test was from the manufacturer’s brochure, and he said she misquoted an email sent between forensic DNA consultant Elizabeth Johnson, who testified on behalf of the defense, and a scientist who works for the manufacturer of the blood test.

When it came to Faye Springer, the forensic scientist who tested the fibers found in the soil, she was a “real scientist” but the way the prosecution applied her testimony to their case was junk science, Sanger said.

Sanger said if the prosecution wanted to test fibers, they could have found similar items to Smart’s clothing at the time she disappeared.

“Mr. Peuvrelle said they couldn’t compare it because he blamed Mr. Flores took the body,” Sanger said. “Well, there’s no evidence Mr. Flores — either Mr. Flores — took the body.”

He added that the DNA test results from the mattress cover were “uninformative” and should not be used to convict his client of murder.

Before finishing his arguments, Sanger informed jurors that Peuvrelle would have a chance to rebut the defense’s arguments. He said Peuvrelle could only respond to what he said and cannot present his case or “appeal to emotions.”

“The only proper verdict in this case is not guilty,” Sanger said.

Kristin Smart’s only ‘at-risk’ behavior was ‘existing in same zip code as Paul Flores,’ prosecutor says

During his rebuttal, Peuvrelle told jurors he was going to take them back to 24 hours ago — when Sanger alleged the prosecution’s case was a “conspiracy theory.”

“He would have you believe that 50 witnesses are involved in a grand conspiracy,” Peuvrelle said. “He would have you believe six cadaver dogs and their handlers are in on it. He would have you believe even the media is in on it.”

“That is absurd,” Peuvrelle said.

Peuvrelle said he never understood why the defense asked dog handlers if their dogs spoke English, or if their dogs were friends with one another, but now he did: The dogs were part of the conspiracy.

And the coup de grâce? The prosecution was in on it, Peuvrelle said, adding that he was in high school when cadaver dogs alerted to human remains in Paul Flores’ bedroom.

Peuvrelle particularly took issue with Sanger saying “conspiracy theories are fun” in his closing arguments.

“Did it look like the woman with the ball gag was having fun?” Peuvrelle asked. “Did it look like Sarah Doe was having fun? Did it look like Rhonda Doe was having fun?”

He told jurors the case was not fun, and they had seen things no human being should see.

When it came to the “at-risk” behavior Smart allegedly engaged in at the Crandall Way party, “the only at-risk behavior of Kristin Smart was existing in the same zip code as Paul Flores,” Peuvrelle said.

On cadaver dogs, even if they did alert on vomit, Paul Flores told law enforcement he only vomited a little in his mouth, so there would be no vomit to alert to on his mattress, the prosecutor said.

He said Rhonda Doe attended Cal Poly in 1996-97, Paul Flores attended Cal Poly from 1995-96 and there’s no evidence their time at Cal Poly crossed paths. And if Doe had recognized Flores, she would have “run for the hill” when she saw him before he allegedly assaulted her in 2007, Peuvrelle said.

Peuvrelle stood by what Sanger called “junk science,” adding that the defense’s DNA expert lacked expertise required to speak on the case.

He alleged Johnson “word-smithed her opinion” because she was being paid $2,000 per day, and added that she has not worked in an accredited lab or published any peer-reviewed research since 1997 — “when Bill Clinton was president.”

He said that it is impossible to do a validation study on exactly what happened in the case because in order to do so, a body must be buried in soil underneath a deck surrounded by lattice and a house, and investigators would have to wait until 2047 and dig the body up, then wait 14 months to analyze samples of the soil to compare.

“What she’s saying is impossible and that’s the point,” Peuvrelle said.

He added that the case itself had a real-world study — with every control sample taken from Ruben Flores’ property testing negative for human blood.

“If the soil on that property was so acidic, all those samples would have tested positive,” Peuvrelle said. “But they didn’t.”

Sanger claimed the 6-feet-by-4-feet soil anomaly underneath Ruben Flores’ deck could be from an avocado tree, but if this were true, Peuvrelle said, then “the entire property would look like a cemetery.”

But there was only one anomaly that was the size of a human body and had a surface disturbance, Peuvrelle said, and that was underneath Ruben Flores’ deck. And the anomaly, the prosecutor added, had staining consistent with a human body being dug up and that staining tested positive for human blood.

And the samples that tested positive contained fibers that matched the clothing Smart was last seen in.

“If that’s not enough, then what you seek is perfection and that does not exist,” Peuvrelle said. “Sometimes we tell our kids monsters do not exist and that’s not true. We’ve seen one in this trial.”

Prosecution fails to meet ‘burden of proof,’ defense says

Following the conclusion of Peuvrelle’s rebuttal, Sanger moved for a mistrial for the eighth time in the case, alleging Peuvrelle engaged in “prosecutorial misconduct” again.

He said Peuvrelle gave jurors a binary choice between believing what Peuvrelle said was the defense’s conspiracy theory or the prosecution’s case. This was misleading because it is not up to the defense to prove Flores’ innocence, but rather up to the prosecution to prove his guilt, Sanger said.

Peuvrelle said this was the eighth “frivolous and groundless” motion for a mistrial, and that he was responding to Sanger’s statements that prosecution’s case was a “conspiracy theory.”

The judge agreed, and denied the motion.

Sanger pushed back, asking the judge to read over case law, which the judge did. She still held her ruling.

“I don’t disagree with your characterization of the law, Mr. Sanger, but that’s not what was said,” O’Keefe told Sanger after he doubled down on Peuvrelle’s alleged misconduct.

The jury was then sent out for deliberations.

Ruben Flores’ jury is currently hearing their juror instructions, and closing arguments in his case are expected to begin Wednesday.