Judge Moves Kristin Smart Lawsuit Out of California County

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (AP) — A judge on Wednesday ordered that the murder trial of Kristin Smart be moved out of San Luis Obispo County in central California, saying he doubted a fair trial could take place for two men accused of the 1996 murder of the student, whose body was never found.

This combination photo shows suspects Paul Flores (L) and Ruben Flores (R), who were arrested Tuesday April 13, 2021 for the murder of Kristin Smart. Flores, the longtime suspect in the California student’s 25-year-old disappearance, was arrested on Tuesday, April 13, 2021, on suspicion of murder, and his father was jailed as an accomplice to the crime. Flores, 44, who was the last person seen with Smart on the California Polytechnic State University campus in San Luis Obispo before she disappeared in 1996, was arrested in the Los Angeles area. (San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

Judge Craig Van Rooyen granted a change of venue request to Paul Flores and his father, noting extensive media coverage of the case and a volume of social media speculation that he said would make it difficult to find an impartial jury.

He said while the case had received national attention, particularly since the two men were arrested last year, it had been under scrutiny for decades in the relatively small coastal county of 283,000 people.

“I don’t think this matter is discussed around dinner tables in other counties like it is in this county,” van Rooyen said.

The prosecution objected to a change of venue, arguing that simply hearing about the case through widespread media coverage would not necessarily mean potential jurors were biased.

The trial was scheduled to begin April 25 but is expected to be postponed until a new location is found. A status conference is scheduled for April 4.

Flores, 45, is charged with the murder of Smart, who disappeared 25 years ago.

Flores was the last person seen with a very intoxicated Smart on May 25, 1996, when he helped escort her back to her dorm at California Polytechnic State University after a party, witnesses said. Prosecutors said he killed Smart while trying to rape her in her dorm.

Her father, Ruben Flores, 80, is accused of helping dispose of her body.

Both were arrested last April and have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Prosecutors presented evidence that Smart’s body was once buried under a patio protected by a trellis behind Ruben Flores’ home. They say the body was moved later, and was never found.

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