Robert Sanger, defense attorney for Paul Flores, gives closing arguments Monday in court. Flores is accused of killing Cal Poly student Kristin Smart in 1996.
Robert Sanger, defense attorney for Paul Flores, gives closing arguments Monday in court. Flores is accused of killing Cal Poly student Kristin Smart in 1996.  (Laura Dickinson / San Luis Obispo Tribune photo)

Paul Flores’ defense attorney, Robert Sanger, began his closing arguments in the Kristin Smart murder trial Monday by claiming the prosecution’s evidence amounted to “conspiracy theories that are not backed up by facts.”

Paul Flores has been on trial for the 1996 murder of Smart for more than three months at Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas, along with his father, Ruben Flores, who is alleged to have helped his son conceal the crime.

In some instances investigators were “grasping at straws” to build a case, Sanger said during his closing argument.

Sanger claimed San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Chris Peuvrelle’s goal during the prosecution’s closing arguments was not to showcase evidence, but rather to evoke an emotional prejudice against Paul Flores by using phrases like “guilty as sin” and quoting witness testimony that says Paul Flores called Smart a “d–k tease.”

“(Peuvrelle’s) belief is not relevant, my belief is not relevant — you have to look at the facts,” Sanger said.

Defense Attorney Says Publicity of Case is ‘Elephant in the Room’

The publicity of the case is “the elephant in the room,” Sanger said, adding that there were people “inserting themselves” into the case along with extensive news coverage locally and nationally. “A lot of this had an influence on testimony,” Sanger said.

He claims Rhonda Doe, one of the women who said Paul Flores raped her, only came forward after she recognized Paul Flores from the news when he was arrested. He said the fact that she and the prosecution did not disclose that she attended Cal Poly in 1996 and 1997, when the publicity of the case was high, “was not a coincidence.”

In Rhonda Doe’s testimony, she said she never saw Paul Flores in the news when she was at Cal Poly and did not follow San Luis Obispo County news when she moved out of the county.

Sanger said the Flores family have been “miserable” because of the publicity of the case, and alleged law enforcement tipped off reporters during searches and the Flores men’s arrests — despite San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office Detective Clint Cole and other investigators testifying they did not notify the news media.

“I want to point out this is a sad case, there’s no question about it — Kristin Smart disappeared and never came home,” Sanger said, adding “we heard about the Sundays to appeal to emotions.” But Smart was a young woman who went missing and “had some problems,” Sanger said.

He added the prosecution brought forth evidence of Smart’s problems first, like the “buckle up, buttercup” letter Smart’s mother, Denise Smart, wrote her a few weeks before she went missing.

“Whatever at-risk behaviors she was engaged in doesn’t excuse what could have happened to her, but it is evidence that she engaged in at-risk behavior,” Sanger said. “It’d be nice to just preserve this idea that everything was fine and she was angelic, but the reality is she engaged in at-risk behavior and you have to interpret how that affects the events that may have transpired.”

Woman Who Said Paul Flores Admitted to Murder is Unreliable, Defense Attorney Says

The prosecution’s “star witness,” Jennifer Hudson, is unreliable Sanger told jurors during his closing arguments.

Hudson testified that while hanging out at a house where skateboarders were known to hang out in 1996, Paul Flores told her Smart was “a d–k tease” and “all she did was lead me on and I finally had enough of her s–t so I took care of her, buried (or put her) under the ramp at my place in Huasna.”

At the beginning of his arguments, Peuvrelle equated the Huasna part of the statement to a white lie — something Paul Flores “loved to tell,” similar to when he lied about his black eye or joked about Smart being at his mom’s house eating breakfast to his dorm roommate, Derrick Tse.

Later in his arguments, Peuvrelle equated the ramp to Ruben Flores’ deck and Huasna as being close to Arroyo Grande — an argument Sanger called “preposterous.”

“It doesn’t make sense if you stop and think about it,” Sanger said, adding that Huasna is a 40-minute drive on a dirt road from Arroyo Grande. Sanger noted that Cole, the detective, testified he could not corroborate Hudson’s story, and Sanger claimed her story kept changing until it was the story that worked.

Sanger alleged the only reason the prosecution called Hudson as a witness despite her unreliability was so Peuvrelle could attribute the phrase “d–k tease” to Paul Flores in order to evoke an emotional response from jurors.

“(Peuvrelle) got to say some really vile words and put them in Paul Flores’ mouth,” he said. Sanger also claimed Hudson and her former roommate, Justin Goodwin, inserted themselves in the case by going to “Your Own Backyard” podcaster Chris Lambert — who the defense says also inserted himself in the case — before turning to law enforcement.

He alleged Hudson, Goodwin and Lambert wanted to figure out their story before coming to law enforcement, and noted that in her testimony Hudson said Lambert told her not to tell law enforcement she had met with him.

Lambert told The Tribune he never told Hudson not to tell law enforcement about their meeting. Hudson had also testified she saw Paul Flores driving a white four-wheel-drive pick up truck in 1996 to a skate ramp, and when she got out of her car she was so frightened she vomited on her shoes. But the only white truck that belonged to the Flores family at that time was a white two-wheel drive truck, Sanger said, something Cole confirmed by looking under the car.

Peuvrelle said in his arguments its perfectly reasonable for an 18-year-old woman to not look under the car to confirm what kind of car it was. The truck was another thing Sanger focused on — alleging Lambert knew about the truck previously being reported stolen in October 2019, and told Hudson about it before she spoke with investigators.

But Cole testified he had not told Lambert about the truck until January 2020 as a stimulation strategy for the wiretap investigators had on the Flores family.

Prosecution ‘Cherry Picked’ Evidence, Sanger Argues

He said Peuvrelle “cherry-picked” the evidence that worked for the prosecution’s theory, and did not show evidence in its full context.

“Mr. Peuvrelle is trying to bootstrap a murder where there’s no evidence of a murder,” Sanger said.

For example, cadaver dogs were “alerting everywhere,” but jurors were only shown the evidence of the dog alerts at Paul Flores’ dorm room and the change in behavior from underneath Ruben Flores’ deck. Dogs did alert in Huasna which resulted in two digs that did not yield any forensic evidence, Cole testified when called by the defense.

Sanger said there were also several other alerts or changes in behavior on Cal Poly campus that were false alerts but not shown to jurors. Sanger called the human remains detection dog testimonies “junk science,” and said that the dog handlers did not follow proper scientific procedure and there was no way to tell how reliable their dogs actually were or whether the crime scenes were contaminated.

Paul Flores has never changed his story throughout the 26 years this case has been going on, Sanger said, other than how he got the black eye. But its normal for young people to not want to talk about how they get a black eye, Sanger said.

Sanger said jurors can only convict his client if there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, and cannot let bias, sympathy, prejudice or public opinion influence their decision.

“There is no evidence here,” Sanger said. Sanger’s closing arguments are expected to conclude Tuesday morning followed by a rebuttal from Peuvrelle. It is unclear if closing arguments for Ruben Flores will begin Tuesday as planned.

Click here to read a news article about prosecutor Chris Peuvrelle’s closing arguments in the trial. 

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