(NewsNation) — Twelve jurors and eight alternates will be chosen for the murder trial of Kristin Smart — some 26 years after her disappearance.
But as a classmate and his father stand trial for her murder starting at the top of July, a change of venue and a strict gag order have been put in place.
Kristin Smart was 19 years old and a thriving Cal Poly student in 1996 when a classmate offered to walk her home from an off-campus party.
No one has seen her since.
Now, that 45-year-old classmate, Paul Flores, is charged with her murder and his 81-year-old father, Ruben, is accused of helping to hide and dispose of Smart’s body, which has never been found.
The arrests came last year following renewed interest and new leads in the case, raised by podcaster Chris Lambert and his popular true-crime series, “Your Own Backyard.”
There is “A strong suspicion that a human burial site existed underneath the deck of Ruben Flores’s house,” he narrates on the popular podcast.
Due to high interest and publicity in San Luis Obispo County, where the crimes were alleged to have occurred, a judge agreed to move the trial more than 100 miles away to Monterey County.
The move, however, comes with a strict gag order, which some claim is a clear violation of the First Amendment.
“This order sweeps even way beyond court staff and even judicial personnel. It includes lawyers on both sides, people working for lawyers on both sides, even witnesses to trial cannot go into court and then speak to the press about their own testimony,” said David Loy, a legal director at the First Amendment Coalition.
The judge is also not allowing any audio or video of the trial.
Despite his concern over the trial’s restrictions, Loy agrees the change in venue was warranted.
“In smaller communities such as San Luis Obispo, the risk of bias is high so it is appropriate to change venue. So that is one of the ways — appropriate ways — to protect the right to a fair trial without sacrificing the right to freedom of speech,” he said.
“The judge, I think, was coming off the Johnny Depp, Amber Heard case and was watching what appeared to be such high national interest with such public engagement in that tail and my hunch is that the judge is looking at that and what could again become a circus in her court room,” Rachel Fiset, a co-founder and managing partner at Zwieback, Fiset and Coleman, said Monday on “NewsNation Prime.”
Even beyond the strict protocols surrounding the case, Fiset explains that the case will be hard to win for the victim’s family simply based on how long ago it took place.
“This case is so old and there is no smoking gun at this moment as it relates to a body,” Fiset said.
On the other hand, she believes prosecutors wouldn’t be bringing up the case in vain.
“But for the prosecutors to bring a case that has been cold this long, must feel like they have very big evidence that can convince a jury,” Fiset said.
The jury selection process is expected to last a few weeks, with opening statements set to begin July 6.