A California man and his father, both behind bars in connection with the death of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart, pleaded not guilty on Monday.
KTLA reports that Paul Flores, 44, who is charged with murdering 19-year-old Smart, and his father, Ruben Flores, 80, who is facing an accessory after the fact charge, both appeared virtually at the San Luis Obispo Superior Court for a Monday arraignment.
Ruben Flores’ lawyer, Harold Mesick, said that the charges against his client were questionable. Mesick reportedly added that the most damning evidence that prosecutors have against Ruben Flores is soil that had been disturbed, dug up, and unloaded in a nearby site where the foundation had been laid.
“It was a hot mess because it’s been previously excavated,” Mesick said. “If we even call it evidence, it is so minimal as to shock the conscience.”
Prosecutor Christopher Peuvrelle, however, told the court that Mesick left out several key facts. The outlet reports that the arrests came after new evidence emerged through Paul Flores’ cellphone data, new witnesses that came forward, and separate police searches at Paul Flores’ mother’s home, along with his sister’s residence and his father’s home.
Although Smart’s remains have yet to be found, prosecutors said they think they know where she is buried, although they didn’t disclose where.
Paul Flores’ lawyer, Robert Sanger, told the court there is a little new information in the warrants that “has not been a matter of public record, blogging, speculation and whatnot for over 20 years.”
“There are also conclusionary statements … by people who admit they have no real evidence and then they opine … Mr. Flores did it,” Sanger added.
Peuvrelle argued that there is so much evidence in the case that it would take months to read, adding that Sanger “must not have read the same warrant I did.”
Court records indicate that Paul Flores has previous charges against him, including pending weapons charges and two other sexual assault accusations.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Superior Court Judge Craig B. Van Rooyen ultimately lowered Ruben Flores’ bail from $250,000 to something more affordable. The judge said there would have been a chance Ruben Flores would spend the max of three years behind bars for the accessory charge before the case went to trial.
The judge said that there was too much evidence against Paul Flores and ordered him to remain behind bars without bail.
During a press release last week, San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow announced that authorities believe Smart was killed while Flores attempted to sexually assault her.
“It is alleged he caused Kristin’s death while in the commission of or attempt to commit rape.”
Dow said the incident likely happened inside Paul Ruben’s dorm room.
A preliminary hearing for both father and son has been tentatively set for July 6.
What Happened to Kristin Smart?
As CrimeOnline previously reported, Smart disappeared on May 24, 1996, after attending an off-campus party near Cal Poly. She called her parents that night at around 8:00 p.m. and left a voicemail. It was the last time they heard from her.
Fellow classmates Cheryl Anderson and Tim Davis told police that Smart was intoxicated and passed out on a neighbor’s lawn that night. They helped her up to escort her back to her dorm room, when Flores joined in and said he would help as well.
As the group walked toward Smart’s dorm, Davis left first to go to his own dorm, followed by Anderson. Flores assured the group that he would get Smart home safely and lived the nearest to her.
Flores later told authorities that he accompanied Smart back to her dorm at Muir Hall. He claimed he then left and walked to his own dorm room at Santa Lucia Hall.
Flores had a black eye while speaking to investigators at the time. He explained it happened after playing basketball, but authorities were skeptical of his story.
Flores later claimed he got the black eye while working on a truck. Eventually, he stopped talking to the investigators and obtained an attorney.
When authorities brought cadaver dogs to the campus, the dogs reportedly made their way to room #128 at the Santa Lucia Dorm, where Flores lived. Two dogs showed interest in a mattress on the left-hand side of the room, according to court documents, which was Flores’ side of the room.
According to CARDA dog handler, Adela Morris, there “a strong possibility that a deceased body had been in that room.”
The Daily Beast reported in 2016 that authorities had the chance to arrest Flores on rape charges prior to Smart’s disappearance. Additional women reportedly came forward afterward and said Flores also sexually assaulted them.
One of the women said she contacted the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office and reported the incident, but Flores has never been convicted of any of the alleged assaults.
Frustrated and desperate for answers, Smart’s parents filed eventually filed a civil suit against Flores for “taking the body of Kristin Smart and secreting and/or destroying the body… in a hidden place in the County of San Luis Obispo.”
Flores’ family countersued the Smart family for emotional distress. A judge later ruled that the Smarts’ lawsuit could not proceed, due to the ongoing investigation, according to The Tribune.
In 2016, authorities found items of interest while excavating sites around the “P” hill, near the campus. Smart’s mother, however, said she knew that they wouldn’t find her daughter there.
“When they did the big dig, I had no anxiety,” Denise Smart said at the time. “I said she’s not there.”
The excavation didn’t provide any items of evidence that led to an arrest in the case and as Denise Smart predicted, searchers didn’t find her daughter.
In March of this year, authorities spent two days searching Ruben Flores’ Arroyo home. They used cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar while digging in areas outside of the home. Investigators also removed an old Volkswagen from the property.
Investigators returned to the home on Tuesday morning. Numerous law enforcement vehicles were seen outside the home for hours.
Ruben Flores’ attorney told People magazine that he “doesn’t believe there is any evidence, especially objective physical evidence, that my client has committed any crime.”
Check back for updates.
Video contains previous coverage on the case
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[Feature Photo: Kristin Smart/Handout; Paul and Ruben Flores/Police Handout]