Paul Flores appears in San Luis Obispo Superior Court in August 2021
Paul Flores appears in San Luis Obispo Superior Court in August 2021 during his preliminary hearing with his attorney Robert Sanger. Flores faces trial on charges related to the disappearance of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart in 1996.  (David Middlecamp / San Luis Obispo Tribune file photo)

An 85-page court motion to dismiss the murder case against Paul Flores was filed last month in San Luis Obispo Superior Court, contending that the case alleging he murdered missing Cal Poly student Kristin Smart in 1996 lacks credible evidence.

The motion calls into question the reliability of witnesses, cadaver dog alerts and alleges an “orchestrated” series of moves by law enforcement leading up to his arrest for the murder of Smart, whose body has never been recovered.

The motion, filed Dec. 17 by Flores’ attorneys Robert and Sarah Sanger, also cites the influence of the popular “Your Own Backyard” podcast and a social media campaign that has unjustly “convicted” Flores of Smart’s murder.

The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office fired back with a 47-page opposition Monday — contending there is a rational basis for trying Flores based on the collective witness statements and physical evidence.

Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle wrote that Flores lied about a black eye when police questioned him after Smart went missing and that cadaver dog alerts were reliable resources to gather evidence in locations such as Flores’ dorm room and at his father’s property in Arroyo Grande.

Peuvrelle cited Judge Craig Van Rooyen’s September ruling of sufficient evidence to proceed to trial after a 22-day preliminary hearing of evidence and arguments. The trial is scheduled to begin in April.

On Friday, Van Rooyen will rule on the motion to dismiss the case in a Zoom hearing set for 8:30 a.m.

Defense Claims ‘No New Credible Evidence’ In Disappearance of Cal Poly Student 

Flores is accused of killing Smart when they were both Cal Poly students in 1996.

Flores was the last person seen with Smart, following an off-campus party in San Luis Obispo. She has been missing ever since.

Kristin Smart

Kristin Smart (Contributed photo )

Flores’ father, Ruben Flores, is charged with accessory after the fact. Both men have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

“This is a case in which there has been no new credible evidence regarding the disappearance of Kristin Smart or any involvement on the part of Paul Flores in that disappearance for over 20 years,” the latest defense motion claims. “Nevertheless, in a series of orchestrated televised moves, the Sheriff and the District Attorney proceeded to arrest and then prosecute Paul Flores without credible evidence.”

Peuvrelle countered that claim, saying, “the court evidence provides a strong suspicion that a crime was committed and the defendant was the one who committed it.”

In their motion, the Sangers say the evidence adds up to “speculation,” versus a reasonable conclusion that a crime occurred. The Sangers argue that witness Jennifer Hudson’s testimony isn’t credible that she overheard Paul Flores say he buried Smart’s body near a skate ramp in Huasna.

Flores consistently told witnesses he last saw Smart when they parted near the dorms and that he had nothing to do with her disappearance, they said. Hudson’s “bizarre story” wasn’t revealed until 2002, years after Smart’s disappearance, when she told a roommate while intoxicated, the Sangers wrote. “The friend eventually told the obsessed podcaster who has made a career of following this case,” they wrote in the motion.

The Sangers also argue that “after many false dog alerts and substantial excavation, no evidence of a body was found.”

A prosecution theory that Smart was buried under Ruben Flores’ deck also is speculative, they claim, contending that ground-penetrating radar showed “anomalies” but that evidence doesn’t prove anything and it is not consistent with the ground having been disturbed in connection with the alleged crime.

Additionally, the defense said that dog alerts in Flores’ dorm room, which had been cleaned and sanitized at the time of the search, lacked evidence as to what caused the dogs’ behavior. “No evidence was found,” they contended. “The most recent people to have been in the (dorm) room were police officers who may have been in contact with human trace evidence in the context of other duties.”

Dog alerts in various locations — such as the dorm, places on campus and in Huasna — associated with the investigation, don’t have evidentiary value, the motion states. “The fundamental problem is that there is no scientific basis for evidence of dog behavior itself unless it actually leads to physical evidence such as a fleeing individual or an actual body,” the motion notes.

The Sangers additionally commented on the role of podcaster Chris Lambert’s multi-part “Your Own Backyard” series and a social media campaign that the motion claims was designed to convict Paul Flores.

“One of the things that all of the witnesses for the prosecution had in common was that they had seen substantial publicity mention Paul Flores as a suspect,” the Sangers wrote, adding that witnesses with “improbable, late-reported stories” had extensive contact with Lambert.

Additionally, the defense claimed that on June 19, 1996, Flores was questioned by law enforcement officials “without being advised of his Miranda rights,” when he was repeatedly asked what happened to Kristin Smart and was told to assume she was dead. “The investigators repeatedly threatened Mr. Flores with statements to the effect that this case will never go away and that the investigators do not believe him,” the motion stated.

Prosecution Responds to Motion to Dismiss Paul Flores Case

In its arguments, the District Attorney’s Office said at this point in the case the “question of guilt or innocence is not before the court,” only whether sufficient evidence exists to proceed to trial.

San Luis Obispo County deputy district attorney Chris Peuvrelle speaks in court in August 2021 during Paul Flores’ preliminary hearing.

San Luis Obispo County deputy district attorney Chris Peuvrelle speaks in court in August 2021 during Paul Flores’ preliminary hearing.  (David Middlecamp / San Luis Obispo Tribune file photo)

Peuvrelle heavily cited Van Rooyen’s review of the evidence in ruling on the preliminary hearing in which the judge stated that Flores had contact with Smart at the May 1996 party, which Flores “later minimized in interviews with law enforcement.”

In his ruling, the judge continued: “The court did not hear of any credible sighting of Ms. Smart after that night. I understand there were times in the past when Ms. Smart was unaccounted for a day or two. That behavior does not explain a 25-year disappearance. And for the purposes of preliminary hearing, there was probable cause, that is, a strong suspicion to believe that Ms. Smart is deceased.”

Flores told investigators he had a black eye from playing basketball, but a friend, Jeremy Moon, said Flores had the black eye before playing basketball on Labor Day 1996. “He minimized the lying and said it was a small lie, but he admitted that was not how he got the black eye, and he later said he got it working on his car,” Van Rooyen said.

In regards to the dorm search and cadaver dog evidence, Van Rooyen said “one reasonable interpretation is that human remains were recently in Paul Flores’s dorm room.”

“I should note for the record that I did not rely on the cadaver dog evidence alone in reaching the holder order,” he added. “It is one part of the evidence that I considered in finding probable cause had been established. The totality of the evidence provides some corroboration.”

As for the search at Ruben Flores’ home, Van Rooyen said that no DNA evidence was found, but referred to a serologist’s opinion that “human blood was present in the soil samples.” “Of course, the lack of DNA also means there’s no way to say definitely who the human blood came from,” Van Rooyen said. “Nothing links it definitely to Ms. Smart. But for preliminary hearing purposes, there’s enough to support a strong suspicion that a burial site existed under the deck at Ruben Flores’ house.”

Peuvrelle noted that cadaver dogs are “trained to scent and alert to decomposing human remains” and their use has been admitted in past court cases as a reliable detector of decomposition. The judge took the experience of the dogs into proper legal consideration, the prosecution argued. Peuvrelle wrote that Van Rooyen correctly ruled that the court “did not need to make a determination as to theory of murder, and indeed the (prosecution doesn’t) have to present a theory of murder at preliminary hearing.”

As for the alleged violation of his Miranda rights in a 1996 police interview, Peuvrelle wrote: “Paul Flores was never handcuffed, never in custody and participated voluntarily the entire time.”

He concluded that the court should deny the defense motion to dismiss the case because “there is a rational basis” for the holding order to proceed to trial.

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