Jury selection in the Kristin Smart murder trial has ground to a halt because of unspecified health concerns linked to accused killer Paul Flores and his father, Ruben Flores, who is charged with helping dispose of the Cal Poly student’s body 26 years ago.
More than 1,500 Monterey County residents received jury duty summons for the selection process, which began June 13. The jury pool will be whittled to 40 jurors, including alternates, for two trials.
But selection in the trial against Paul Flores has now been pushed back until Monday, and it is unclear when Ruben Flores’ jury will be selected, according to court officials in Monterey County, where the trial was transferred. Paul Flores’ trial was slated to begin early next month.
The exact nature of the health concerns and which defendant was involved were not revealed. Paul Flores is 45; his father is 80. Since the pandemic, it is not uncommon for defendants to become infected with the coronavirus, forcing delays in proceedings.
Smart’s disappearance and subsequent murder investigation have haunted the Central Coast college community for decades, with billboards appealing for evidence to convict her killer. Her body has never been found, but she was legally declared dead in 2002.
San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s detectives arrested Paul Flores at his San Pedro home in April 2021, nearly 25 years after Smart vanished.
His father, Ruben, was also taken into custody last year at his home in Arroyo Grande, Calif. He is charged with being an accessory to the crime after prosecutors say he moved Smart’s body.
The 19-year-old was last seen walking with Paul Flores near residence halls after attending a party in the early hours of May 25, 1996. Both were Cal Poly San Luis Obispo students at the time.
In September, after hearing 22 days of testimony, a San Luis Obispo County judge ruled there was enough evidence for both Paul and Ruben Flores to be tried, and the proceedings were ordered to be moved 126 miles north to Monterey County to ensure a fair trial.
Flores and his father will be tried by separate juries, and those impaneled in each won’t hear the same evidence. Testimony in the younger Flores’ case isn’t likely to get underway until next month; the trial is expected to last until October.
During the preliminary hearing, a prosecutor solicited testimony from witness Jennifer Hudson that Paul Flores admitted the crime to her in 1996.
“I’m done playing with her, and I put her out underneath my ramp,” Hudson testified that Flores told her. But she didn’t tell anyone of those words for years and informed the lead investigator in the case in 2019.
Smart had passed out at a party for two hours in full view of many, and two friends were holding her to walk her home when Flores “came out of the darkness” and repeatedly told one of those friends that he would get her home safely, Deputy Dist. Atty. Chris Peuvrelle has said.
Peuvrelle elicited testimony that he said shows Ruben Flores concealed Smart’s body, eventually moving it after years of keeping some of the remains below a deck at his Arroyo Grande home.
During the trial, the defense will probably cast the lead detectives and a local true-crime podcast as targeting Paul Flores. In a recent court motion to dismiss the case, Flores’ lawyer, Robert Sanger, argued that “disinformation” was “purposely disseminated” by San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Det. Clint Cole to an unnamed podcast.
The true-crime podcast “Your Own Backyard” has been credited by authorities with reviving interest in the Smart case and helping identify potential new witnesses and avenues of investigation.