The trial has been moved to Salinas in Monterey County
SAN LUIS OBISPO — The trial of Paul and Ruben Flores will not begin on May 31 as previously scheduled. The father and son duo are charged in connection with the 1996 murder and disappearance of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart (19).
It was announced during a change of venue hearing on April 20 that the trial would be moved to Monterey County. It was later confirmed by Monterey Superior Court officials the trial will take place in Salinas, with Judge Jennifer O’Keefe overseeing the trial — meaning San Luis Obispo County Judge Craig van Rooyen will not be following the trial to Salinas.
O’Keefe was appointed to Monterey County in 2021 by Gov. Gavin Newsom to fill a vacancy created by retiring Judge Efren Iglesia. She previously served as chief deputy public defender since 2017 and, prior to that, served as a deputy public defender in Fresno County from 2005 to 2010.
Judge van Rooyen granted Paul and Ruben Flores’s lawyers’ request for a change of venue on March 30.
Ruben and Paul Flores’s attorneys, Robert Sanger and Harold Mesick, argued the case had been overwhelmingly exposed to the public. Sanger added local prejudice by potential jurors is a clear danger. San Luis Obispo County District Attorney (DA) prosecutor Christopher Peuvrelle argued against it.
Peuvrelle argued nationwide coverage of the case means familiarity with the case — it has not been centered in San Luis Obispo County only.
Ultimately, Judge van Rooyen made his decision to move the trial, saying he found it likely the father and son would not receive a fair and impartial trial due to media coverage of the case.
May 31 was originally chosen as a trial start date by Judge van Rooyen before Monterey County was selected as the new trial location.
Monterey County Court officials have not announced an updated trial start date.
According to the Monterey County Court website, there are no hearings scheduled at this time; however, the last activity shown for the case shows there was paperwork filed on May 26. The name of who filed the paperwork is withheld.
Smart was last seen with Paul Flores leaving an off-campus party on Crandall Way in San Luis Obispo on May 25, 1996. Although her remains have never been found, Smart was legally declared dead in 2002.
Paul Flores is charged with her murder. His father, Ruben Flores, is charged as an accessory after the fact, accused of helping hide Smart’s body. Paul Flores has remained in custody at the San Luis Obispo County Jail without bail since his arrest. Ruben Flores is currently out on bail.
Paul and Ruben Flores were arrested at their homes in April 2021, nearly 25 years after Smart’s disappearance. On March 9, the defense filed a change of venue motion.
This is a developing story that will be updated as more information is available.