SAN PEDRO (CNS) - A San Pedro resident pleaded not guilty today to murdering his former Cal Poly San Luis Obispo classmate Kristin Smart, who was last seen walking back to the college dormitories from an off-campus party nearly 25 years ago.
Paul Ruben Flores -- who had long been described as a “prime suspect'' by authorities -- was arrested last Tuesday at his home in San Pedro and charged a day later with killing the 19-year-old freshman, whose body has not been found.
The criminal complaint alleges that the now 44-year-old defendant killed Smart on May 25, 1996, while he was “engaged in the commission of, or attempting to commit, the crime of rape.''
His attorney argued that there was little new evidence in the case and questioned the timing of the arrest, while Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle called the new evidence from multiple searches “substantial.''
San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Craig B. Van Rooyen ordered that Flores be held without bail, citing serious public safety and flight risk concerns.
Rooyen specifically addressed a recent California Supreme Court ruling in a case involving defendant Kenneth Humphrey that limits pretrial detention.
In Flores' case, the judge said there is “clear and convincing evidence'' that no less restrictive means exist to protect the public from the possibility that Flores could seriously injure someone else.
A bail review hearing was set for Wednesday for Flores' 80-year-old father, Ruben Ricardo Flores, who pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of being an accessory to the fact.
The judge indicated his intent to set affordable bail and potentially allow the senior Flores to be subject to electronic monitoring, given his lifetime lack of a criminal record.
The older man's attorney argued that if his client, who he said recently underwent triple-bypass heart surgery, stayed much longer in jail, he might end up dying there.
“He's a medical nightmare for the jail,'' attorney Harold Mesick said, after detailing the older man's service in the U.S. Navy and as a reserve officer for the Redondo Beach Police Department.
The Arroyo Grande resident, who was arrested at his home simultaneously with when his son was taken into custody, is accused of helping to conceal Smart's body after she was killed, according to San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow.
“We certainly believe that Mr. (Paul) Flores' dorm room was the crime scene,'' the prosecutor said last week, noting that the young woman from Stockton was last seen alive “close to the dorms.''
She was seen walking back to her dorm with the younger Flores – both were then 19-year-old college freshmen -- at about 2 a.m. that day, authorities said. She was reported missing three days later.
Though her body has not been found, prosecutors carefully reviewed the case and concluded they have “enough evidence to go forward and prosecute both Mr. Paul Flores and Ruben Flores,'' Dow said.
The district attorney noted that investigators are requesting information from the public “about this case or other potential crimesbelieved to have been perpetrated by Paul Ruben Flores, including assaults or other acts.''
Investigators “do have evidence in this case that leads us to conclude that there very well may be additional victims in the Southern California area,'' Dow said last week, noting that the younger Flores was “known to frequent bars in the San Pedro area.''
“At this point we're concerned about sexual assault,'' he said, noting that the complaint includes a statement that the prosecution intends to use “evidence of other sexual crimes in this prosecution.''
He declined to talk about how Smart was killed, saying that is something prosecutors will address in court.
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said investigators served search warrants at the younger Flores' home and simultaneously at the residences of his mother, father and sister, in February 2020, telling reporters last week that “physical evidence recovered during these searches led to the service of (an) additional search warrant at Paul Flores' residence in April last year.''
“During the search warrant, detectives recovered evidence related to the murder of Kristin Smart,'' the sheriff said, adding that “additional evidence related to the Smart investigation'' was discovered last month when a search warrant was served at Ruben Flores' home.
A San Luis Obispo County judge subsequently signed arrest warrants for the father and son, along with two additional search warrants, the sheriff said.
“Since I came into office in 2011, we have served over 41 search warrants on this case, done physical searches of 16 different locations ... a complete re-examination of every physical item seized, submission of 37 items of evidence from the early days of the case for modern DNA testing, recovery of 193 items of physical evidence, new physical evidence,'' the sheriff told reporters. “ We've conducted approximately 137 person-to-person interviews and in addition completed over 500 additional police reports.''
He vowed that investigators will “continue to focus on finding her remains regardless of any court action,'' adding that they know it's an “important issue with the family.''
In a statement released after the scheduled arraignment was postponed last Thursday, the Smart family said, “Make no mistake we have begun the final quest to bring justice for Kristin. We know we are in good hands with the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney's Office, and we will wait patiently for the process to commence.''
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