SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (AP) — The man last seen with Kristin Smart before she vanished from a college campus 25 years ago on the Central California coast will stand trial on a murder charge in her suspected death, and his father will face a charge as an accomplice for allegedly helping bury her body, a judge ruled Wednesday.
San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Craig van Rooyen said there was probable cause Paul Flores, 44, killed Smart and that Ruben Flores, 80, helped dispose of her body.
Paul Flores was the last person seen with a very intoxicated Smart on May 25, 1996, as he helped walk her to her dorm at California Polytechnic State University after a party, witnesses said. Prosecutors said he killed Smart while trying to rape her in his dorm room.
Prosecutors presented evidence that showed Smart’s body may have been buried under a deck behind Ruben Flores’s home. Prosecutors said the body had been moved from that location and it’s never been found.
Van Rooyen said there was “strong suspicion” Smart was murdered and buried under the deck, which was shielded from view by lattice.
Defense attorneys said prosecutors did not present enough evidence during a 22-day preliminary hearing to support the criminal charges. But van Rooyen said there was probable cause, a lesser standard of proof than beyond a reasonable doubt, which prosecutors will have to prove at trial.
Both men have pleaded not guilty.
During the preliminary hearing, prosecutors presented evidence that cadaver dogs stopped at Flores’ room and alerted to the scent of death near his bed.
Archaeologists who used ground-penetrating radar and dug up soil beneath Ruben Flores’ deck said they found indications the ground had been disturbed in a way similar to a gravesite.
Cindy Arrington, an archaeologist with Natural Investigations, Inc., said she found a “clear subsurface disturbance” and “a large anomaly” that was “large enough to fit human remains into,” the Tribune of San Luis Obispo reported.
Under cross-examination, she said there were no bones or teeth. Arrington said that she had never examined a burial site where no remains were found. Prosecutors have said the body was moved.
Van Rooyen prevented prosecutors from presenting evidence at the hearing alleging Paul Flores drugged and raped four women and engaged in dozens of acts including stalking, unwanted touching and aggressive sexual behavior.
Some women told police that Flores was referred to as “Chester the molester” and “psycho Paul,” the prosecutors said.
The judge said the evidence had limited relevance to the murder case and risked creating greater prejudice against Flores.
When Flores first spoke with police, he downplayed his interactions with Smart at the party and on the walk home. He said she walked to her dorm under her own power, though other witnesses said Flores was helping hold her up and that she had passed out earlier in the night.
William Hanley, head of the district attorney’s investigative bureau in 1996, said Flores eventually stopped cooperating with authorities.
When Hanley asked Flores what he thought happened to Smart, he said she probably left with somebody and “he thinks she’s dead,” Hanley said.
Defense lawyer Robert Sanger, who represents Paul Flores, said there was no real evidence in the case.
Defense attorney Harold Mesick, who represents the father, said prosecutors tried to paint “lipstick on a pig,” a local news outlet reported.