For the past three months, Kristin Smart podcaster Chris Lambert fell into a new routine.
Weekday mornings, his alarm would wake him up at 6 a.m. Then, he’d drive about 20 minutes from his Airbnb to Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas — where Paul Flores has been on trial for Smart’s murder in 1996 with his father, Ruben Flores, who is accused of helping his son conceal the crime.
He’d arrive at court about 30 minutes before proceedings began, get his media badge, then sit through about eight hours of court — with only a 90-minute break, when he would decide between tweeting his court notes or getting lunch somewhere other than a Taco Bell drive-through.
When court ended at 4:30 p.m., Lambert would sit in his car until about 6 p.m. tweeting out more notes. He’d grab food, then head back to the Airbnb. Then he’d tweet some more until around 11 p.m.
“It’s (after 11 p.m.), the only free time I’ve had the entire time I’ve been awake,” Lambert said. “I‘ve been listening to music for the first time in a long time, and then by the time I finish with that, it’s like 2 in the morning.”
On Fridays, he would drive back to his Orcutt home, where his entire weekend consisted of writing his script for his podcast, often not being ready to record until about 6 p.m. Sunday. Then, recording and editing the episode until 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. After that, he would pack and head back to Salinas, arriving between midnight and 2 a.m.
Then, he’s back to the 6 a.m. wakeup call Monday to do it all over again.
“I probably shouldn’t have signed up to do the tweeting and the episodes, but I did. I said I would do it,” Lambert said. “So I kept up on it.”
Now, the fate of Paul and Ruben Flores is in the hands of their respective juries as they deliberate, and a verdict could come at any moment.
In 2018, when Lambert began research for what would become the “Your Own Backyard” podcast, he never imagined the case would ever have any sort of resolution. Sometimes, he said, he wonders how much of a role he played in the case being brought to trial, or if it was just mere coincidence that law enforcement began really focusing on the investigation as his podcast aired.
“It could be coincidence that we were on the same page and we just collided and things came together perfectly,” he said. “Or it could be that if I hadn’t done the podcast, we would have never gotten here. I really don’t know.”
It should be noted that both law enforcement and the Smart family have credited Lambert with renewing interest in the case and bringing forth new evidence and witnesses. But what law enforcement has praised, the defense has used to advance its argument for the Floreses’ innocence.
Robert Sanger began alleging that Lambert’s podcast was “designed to convict Paul Flores” and allowed Lambert to sensationalize the tragedy during the preliminary hearings. Lambert said it was difficult to hear witness Jennifer Hudson, who testified that Paul Flores confessed to her that he killed Smart in 1996, mischaracterize their conversation on the stand.
During the preliminary hearing, Hudson said Lambert had tried to “play cop” — an allegation that Lambert found “heartbreaking,” and completely different from what he had remembered of their conversation.
Lambert believes that is where the defense, particularly Sanger, decided to focus on using him in their case, alleging that Lambert aired false information and manipulated witnesses.
“(Sanger) tried it with so many people who said, ‘No, I had nothing but a good experience with the podcaster,’ but he kept trying for that angle,” he said.
That’s not a surprise, as publicity is a common defense in high-profile cases, and something that has been a key factor in this case.
Lambert said his podcast was created to find Smart’s remains, and he followed the breadcrumbs that ultimately only led to Paul Flores.
“How unlucky do you have to be to be the last person seen with a girl who never resurfaces and everybody who’s ever known you says you did it?” Lambert said.
Lambert said that what San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Chris Peuvrelle said during his closing statements — “If what you seek is perfection, it does not exist” — was smart.
“This is not a beautiful, perfect case where all the questions are answered. This is a case where you stack everything on top of each other and you go, ‘That’s very clear what happened here,’” Lambert said. “You tell me a more reasonable explanation for what happened to that girl. Like, you make it make more sense than this, and I’ll follow that and I’ll believe that. And I hope that’s what the jury does.”
The trial has undoubtedly taken a toll on Lambert, and he said when it ends, he hopes to take a break and process it all.
“I‘ve always had a hard time expressing myself emotionally, at least on the surface,” Lambert said. “And there were a few times that I cried in the courtroom that I did not expect to cry.”
He said there were a few moments during closing arguments when he thought he may have to leave to regain composure, and during testimony from Jennifer Phipps, who talked about looking for Smart and trying to report her as a missing person to Cal Poly police through tears, he cried, too.
“I’m in a very unique position because I’m not covering this case in the capacity of a media person, even though I’m wearing a media badge,” he said. “I’m covering this case as somebody who made a documentary about a case that seemed like it was never going to have a resolution, and I forget that I’m sitting in a room where the resolution is taking place.”
For Lambert, he feels like “it’s now or never.” He said he doesn’t think the case was ever going to get better than it is right now.
“Even if there’s no conviction,” Lambert said, ”this is as good as it was going to get, and at least the Smart family got to see the person who undeniably walked their daughter home and was supposed to get her to her room — even by his own admission, he did not get her to her room. He failed and she died.
“He’s shown no remorse for that, his family’s shown no remorse for that. There’s always been so much hostility and hatred towards this family who’s just looking for their daughter.”
Lambert has grown close with the Smarts since he began researching the case four years ago, and then when the gag order was issued in April 2021, all communication had to be cut off. That’s been one of the hardest parts, he said.
“I can’t wait to talk to the Smart family,” Lambert said. “It’s so hard not to give them a hug or something. And so I just keep having this image of like, regardless of what the verdict is coming out to the courthouse steps, I’m just giving them a big hug.”
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