The judge presiding over the preliminary hearing for the two men charged in connection with the 1996 disappearance of Kristin Smart ruled Wednesday morning that there is sufficient evidence to move the case to trial.
Paul Flores and his father, Ruben, will stand trial for their connection to Ms. Smart’s disappearance nearly 25 years after she went missing from Cal Poly’s campus. Paul has been charged with Ms. Smart’s murder, and his father has been charged with accessory after the fact.
Paul is the last person known to have seen Ms. Smart in May 1996 as he helped her walk back to her dorm at Cal Poly from an off-campus party. Prosecutors believe he killed Ms. Smart while attempting to rape her in his dorm room. She was declared dead in 2002, though her remains have yet to be found.
Judge Craig van Rooyen of San Luis Obispo Superior Court said Wednesday that he has a “strong suspicion” that Ms. Smart was buried under Ruben’s deck after she was murdered by Paul. He cited various pieces of evidence to defend his ruling, including reports from cadaver dog handlers who said four dogs alerted to Paul’s dorm room during a search after Ms. Smart’s disappearance.
He also mentioned the results of a dig at Ruben’s house that disturbed soil the size of a body and revealed blood stains under his deck, saying “nothing links it definitively to Ms. Smart” because of a lack of DNA, but it leads to “reasonable suspicion” that she was buried there. Investigators believe Ms. Smart’s remains were “recently moved,” and suspect Ruben is responsible, the San Luis Obispo Tribune reported.
The judge’s ruling comes after a 22-day preliminary trial, which began Aug. 2. The preliminary hearings included testimony from more than two dozen witnesses, including current and former detectives, friends of Paul and Kristin, cadaver dog handlers and soil analysts.
In response to Wednesday’s ruling, Defense Attorney Robert Sanger, who is representing Paul, said there was not enough evidence presented in the 22-day preliminary trial to move forward with the case. But the judge ruled there was probable cause — a lesser standard of proof than beyond reasonable doubt — and added that it will be up to a jury to decide if there’s “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Paul has remained in custody at the San Luis Obispo County Jail without bail since the arrest in April. Ruben is currently out on bail. Both pleaded not guilty.
Paul and Ruben are scheduled to be arraigned on Oct. 20.