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Paul Flores, the man charged with killing college student Kristin Smart, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, with his attorney arguing the evidence against the 44-year-old is nothing more than “speculation.”
Flores entered the plea Monday, appearing from jail via video conference, wearing a suit jacket, white shirt and tie, according to The Los Angeles Times.
According to his attorney, Robert Sanger, Flores “denies every allegation, special or otherwise” in the cold case that has continued to haunt the San Luis Obispo community for more than two decades.
Smart, a freshman at California Polytechnic State University, disappeared on May 25, 1996. She was last seen walking home from an off-campus party with Flores, who was also a freshman at the time. The teen’s body has never been found.
Flores’ father, Ruben Flores, who has been charged as an accessory for allegedly helping to hide Smart's body, also pleaded not guilty to the allegations against him Monday.
San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow announced the charges against the father and son last week in what he described as a “major milestone” in the case after investigators uncovered “significant new information.”
“It is alleged that Mr. Flores caused the death of Kristin Smart while in the commission of or attempted rape, that is first-degree murder under California law,” Dow said during a press conference.
Prosecutors have remained tight-lipped about what evidence was able to tie both Paul and Ruben to the alleged murder and the affidavit has been sealed to the public; however, on Monday Sanger said he believed the affidavit revealed “very little” information.
Much of it, he said, has already “been a matter of public record, blogging, speculation and whatnot for over 20 years.”
“There are also conclusionary statements … by people who admit they have no real evidence and then they opine … Mr. Flores did it,” Sanger said in court according to KTLA.
Ruben’s attorney, Harold Mesick also questioned the evidence against his client calling it “so minimal as to shock the conscience,” the paper reports.
Mesick said authorities have cited irregular soil patterns at his client’s home but “there are many different, innocent explanations for why the soil was disturbed.”
Prosecutor Christopher Peuvrelle argued that defense attorneys “must not have read the same warrant I did” and said “substantial evidence” had been gathered from Ruben Flores’ Arroyo Grande home last month, but did not provide further details.
The arrests of both men came after significant developments in the case including new witnesses, cellphone and text messages from Paul Flores’ phone, and multiple searches at properties owned by Flores family members, KTLA reports.
Superior Court Judge Craig B. Van Rooyen ruled that Paul Flores be held without bond in the case after deciding there was a “substantial likelihood” the 44-year-old—who is under investigation for sexual assault in both Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo counties—could be a danger to the public.
The Los Angeles Police Department said that detectives have evidence that implicates Flores in two alleged sexual assaults unrelated to the Smart case, The Los Angeles Times reports. Investigators from San Luis Obispo announced last week that they are also seeking information from anyone in the San Pedro area about any possible alleged assaults in that area.
Flores also has several prior drunk driving convictions.
Mesick argued that Ruben Flores—who is currently being held on $250,000 bail—should be released without bail due to his advanced age and significant health problems which would make him a “medical nightmare” behind bars. He recently underwent heart bypass surgery and is taking 17 medications for multiple chronic conditions including diabetes and colitis.
“I believe if he remains in custody very much longer, I believe this case will resolve unfortunately by his unnatural death,” Mesick said according to the local station.
Van Rooyen ordered a separate hearing to discuss the matter, saying he planned to order a bail amount that Ruben Flores would be able to afford.
The hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, local station KSBY reports.
A preliminary hearing date for the case was preliminarily set for July 6.
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