SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — The trial date for Paul and Ruben Flores has been set for April 25, 2022.
Both men have pleaded not guilty to charges relating to the 1996 disappearance of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo freshman, Kristin Smart.
Paul Flores is being charged with murder and is being accused of killing Smart. Ruben Flores, Paul's father, is being charged with accessory after the fact. Investigators have accused Ruben Flores of helping bury Smart's body.
The San Luis Obispo District Attorney's Office said that at one point Smart's body was buried in the backyard of Ruben's Arroyo Grande home and later moved.
Smart's body has never been found.
Paul Flores was one of the last people to be seen with Smart while walking back from an off-campus party more than 25 years ago. Paul and Ruben Flores also plead not guilty during the preliminary hearing. The months-long preliminary hearing lasted from Aug. 2 to Sept. 22.
Judge Craig van Rooyen ruled on Sept. 22, that there was probable cause that 44-year-old Paul Flores killed his classmate.
Paul and Ruben Flores were both arrested in April 2021.
Ruben Flores was released on $50,000 bail on April 21 after Judge Craig van Rooyen reduced it from the original $250,000. Paul Flores is still in custody without bail and Judge van Rooyen denied Defense Attorney Robert Sanger's request during the preliminary hearing to let Paul out on bail.
What happens next?
Now the case has entered the pretrial phase.
The prosecution and the defense will continue gathering information and possible evidence while sharing it with each other in a process called "discovery." The attorneys can also file pretrial motions to dismiss the case or to prevent evidence from being used at a trial.
Paul and Ruben Flores can change their pleas to "guilty" or "no contest." A "no contest" plea is similar to a "guilty" plea in terms of allowing the court to decide punishment, but it means a defendant doesn't admit any guilt. This would be important in a misdemeanor case because it means the plea can't be used against a defendant in a civil case.
However, the San Luis Obispo District Attorney's office filed felony charges against both men. The family of Kristin Smart filed a civil lawsuit against Paul Flores that has been on hold since a judge filed a stay, or pause on the case, in 2003.
During the pretrial phase, the judge and the lawyers could also discuss how the case could be resolved without a trial. For example, the prosecution could offer reduced charges in exchange for a plea or more information.
Looking to the future of the case, a possible change of venue has been brought up during the preliminary hearing and a jury selection process would likely take place if the case continues to trial.
Everyone accused of a crime is legally considered innocent until proven guilty.
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