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Kristin Smart murder trial nears end after prosecution rests its case

The trial of Paul and Ruben Flores is taking place at the Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas.
Wikimedia Commons
The trial of Paul and Ruben Flores is taking place at the Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas.

The Kristin Smart murder trial is getting closer to a verdict, as the prosecution has now rested its case.

They did so last week after laying down the last of their forensic evidence – but the defense’s first two witnesses then called the validity of the evidence into question.

On Monday, the jury heard from Angela Butler, a forensic DNA analyst working at Seri Lab, who was assigned to the case in 2019.

Butler testified about two central pieces of evidence for the prosecution's case.

One was a soil sample collected from under Ruben Flores’ deck where the prosecution believes that Paul and Ruben Flores buried Smart at some point.

The sample tested positive for blood using a HemDirect test, which, as Butler explained, detects the hemoglobin present in human blood.

Butler also testified about a small brownish stain on Paul Flores’ mattress from when he lived in Cal Poly's Santa Lucia Hall in 1996, which she tested for DNA.

The results of the test were uninformative, and Butler said that Kristin Smart and Paul Flores could neither be included nor excluded as contributors to the DNA obtained from the stain.

On Tuesday, the prosecution rested its case, and both defense attorneys motioned for a dismissal of the case against their clients.

Judge Jennifer O’Keefe dismissed both motions, and the defense called their first witness on Wednesday.

David Carter, a forensic specialist, called the validity of the evidence that Butler presented into question.

He said that you would typically expect to find other types of human remains such as bones, teeth, and hair, in a burial site.

Cal Poly student Kristin Smart who disappeared in 1996.
Photo courtesy of Denise Smart
Kristin Smart was last seen in 1996, and was declared legally dead in 2002.

None of those things were present in the soil along with the sample that tested positive for blood, and Carter said he didn’t see “any data that confirms the presence of human remains.”

The prosecution believes the absence of other human remains could be explained by Smart’s body being buried in the soil wrapped in a semi-permeable membrane, like a tarp, which an archeologist suggested earlier on in the trial.

The defense’s second witness was Elizabeth Johnson, a forensic DNA consultant working through a private practice.

Johnson questioned the validity of using the HemDirect test on the blood samples found in the soil that butler testified about on Monday.

She that there had been no validity studies specifically proving that the test works on soil samples, and said that the test “cannot be considered reliable because it is not properly validated for use on this type of sample.”

She also confirmed that the DNA results were uninformative.

According to Johnson, the brownish stain had the least amount of genetic material out of all of the samples taken from the mattress.

The stain was within another section of the mattress which excluded Kristin Smart and Paul Flores from the DNA pool when Butler tested it for DNA.

“You cannot attribute the genetic information… as coming from the stain," Johnson said. "It could be [coming from] the background.”

The defense is set to call at least two more witnesses this week. The trial is expected to last until October with jury deliberations beginning after the defense finishes presenting their witnesses.

Judge O’Keefe will then issue a conviction after jury deliberations.

Paul Flores is charged with Smart’s murder and Ruben Flores is charged with accessory.

Nico Viñuela began as a news intern at KCBX, and then regularly hosted our weekend programs. He also substituted hosting Morning Edition, middays and All Things Considered. Nico graduated from Cal Poly with a BS in Journalism in December 2022. During his time at Cal Poly, he worked as a news anchor and Assistant News Director for the campus radio station, KCPR. He was embedded in Salinas, California covering the Kristin Smart murder trial for Mustang News and KCBX. Nico also did other occasional reporting for KCBX News. In 2023 he moved on to New York to work for Dateline at NBC Universal.
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