A juror tasked with deciding Ruben Flores’ fate in the Kristin Smart murder trial was excused from deliberations Thursday for speaking to his priest about the case.

Monterey County Superior Court Judge Jennifer O’Keefe said she learned of the conversation via a note from another juror serving on Ruben Flores’ panel.

Flores has been on trial for the past three months accused of helping his son, Paul Flores, hide Smart’s body after his son allegedly killed her in 1996.

Among the many admonishments given to jurors about who they cannot speak to about the case is spiritual advisers and therapists.

“This case hasn’t been easy. It’s very hard,” the excused juror said. “There’s lives at stake.”

The juror told the judge that he went to confession on Saturday to receive a “blessing.”

“I feel that I need my spiritual guidance,” he said. The juror said he has been struggling with the gravity of the case along with personal matters, and visited his priest Saturday for spiritual guidance in confession. He told the judge the guidance was not about the facts of the case or decisions being made in the deliberation room.

O’Keefe excused the juror, then called in the juror who wrote the note.

That juror said the man told her while the jurors were waiting outside the deliberation room that he spoke with his priest about the case both in and outside of confession, and that his priest told him “regardless of what the decision is, there is someone up there that oversees and assigns everybody’s judgment.”

She said the excused juror told her that he told his priest he could only talk about the case inside confession, which she felt indicated he was talking about the facts of the case with the priest.

The judge then brought the first juror back in and told him she had received conflicting accounts of the conversation with the priest — namely that he spoke about the case both in and outside confession with his priest.

“That’s clearly opposite of what you’ve told us in court,” O’Keefe said.

The man told her that when he spoke with his priest outside of confession, he was only speaking about his father and the Virgin Mary.

“The last few days, I couldn’t sleep. I’ve got a lot on my mind,” the excused juror said. “This case doesn’t leave me.”

The judge excused the juror, telling him she believes both jurors’ accounts and that perhaps there was room for “gray area.”

“Sometimes the appearance of impropriety is just as bad as actual impropriety,” O’Keefe said. “I need to protect the record.”

Outside of the juror’s presence, O’Keefe said she understood the weight of the decision the juror had to make and believes he was doing his best, but excused him out of an “abundance of caution.” She said it was the appropriate although unfortunate decision.

After the juror was excused, the clerk drew from Ruben Flores’ five alternate jurors. The court swore in another at about 2:45 p.m.

O’Keefe said the jury will need to start deliberations “anew” now that a new juror joined., meaning they have to restart deliberations from the beginning. Ruben Flores’ jury had been deliberating for about three days prior to swearing in the alternate.

There is a separate jury deliberating for the allegations against Paul Flores. 

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