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Kristin Smart case: Smart's neighbor testifies; says she was frustrated by Cal Poly investigation

Pool photo by Dave Minsky | Santa Maria Times
Paul Flores appears in San Luis Obispo Superior Court Aug. 5 for the fourth day of his preliminary hearing.

On the fourth day of the preliminary hearing for Paul and Ruben Flores, the morning started with retired Cal Poly Police Det. Lawrence Kennedy still on the stand.

Robert Sanger, representing Paul Flores, continued with the cross examination. He said he received more than 500 pages of handwritten notes from Kenedy’s investigations from the prosecution.

Sanger asked Kennedy about handwritten notes he had taken while conducting interviews for the investigation. Sanger asked about possible phone calls Margarita Campos, Kristin Smart’s friend, reported getting in the early hours of May 29, 1996.

Sanger referenced handwritten notes by Kennedy, where Kennedy noted Campos said she received phone calls to her dorm room and answered them all. In one particular phone call allegedly between 2:30 and 3 a.m. Sanger said Kennedy wrote in his notes that Campos thought it was a female on the phone, but the voice was muffled. Campos received two subsequent hang up calls, Sanger said while referencing the notes.

Kennedy said he did not recall Campos’ statements.

Sanger also asked Kennedy when the focus of the investigation into Smart’s disappearance changed.

“Pretty much from May 31 on, the focus was on Paul Flores?” Sanger asked Kennedy.

Kennedy said the District Attorney’s Office focused on Flores, while Cal Poly’s investigation continued to focus on the missing persons case.

“We continued to follow up on any lead we received,” Kennedy said.

During Harold Mesick’s cross examination, he asked Kennedy about alleged sightings of Smart after the date she disappeared. Kennedy said, while being questioned by the prosecution, that none of the approximately 75-125 reported sightings panned out.

Kennedy was dismissed and subject to recall.

The tenth witness called to the stand in the preliminary hearing was Margarita Campos. She is a former Cal Poly student who lived next door to Smart in Muir Hall.

Campos said she met Smart in Dec. 1995 and that Smart would often hang out in Campos’ room because she didn’t like her roommate. Campos describes the weekend and hours leading up to the last time she saw Smart.

Campos said the Cal Poly campus was quiet May 24 because many students had left for Memorial Day weekend.

Campos said she and Smart were listening to music in her dorm room and some girls down the hall invited them to a small get-together in a residential area toward the end of California Boulevard. They went to the gathering in a truck, but Campos testified her and Smart felt like they were imposing and eventually left in the truck with the girls they had arrived with.

Campos and Smart were dropped off near the intersection of Foothill and California boulevard around 10:30p.m.

Campos said she was tired and had to use the bathroom, so she wanted to go back to the dorms, but Smart wanted to walk down Crandall Way – which was known as a social street with some fraternity houses located near campus.

Campos testified Smart was wearing a gray t-shirt, black Roxy brand board shorts, and red tennis shoes. Campos said Smart didn’t have her key or pockets, so Campos gave Smart her key to get back into the main dorm entrance, which Smart put in her shoe.

The dorms were closed after midnight and Campos said she wanted Smart to have a way back inside should she stay out late.

Campos said she then started walking toward Muir Hall and Smart started walking towards Crandall Way.

“I’ve replayed this in my head so many times,” Campos said. “I thought if I looked back and she looked back, maybe she would come back with me.”

In hindsight, Campos reflected on that moment: “Why didn’t I turn around and just join her?” Campos said.

After lunch recess, Campos remained on the stand. She described the morning and afternoon following the last time she saw Smart on May 24, 1996.

Campos said Smart’s room was exactly as it had looked the night before.

“I couldn’t understand how someone could drop off the face of the earth,” Campos said.

Campos said May 26,1996 – more than 24 hours since she had last seen Smart – was the most serious day.

Campos said this is when things started getting “surreal” because it was unlike Smart to be gone for more than 24 hours.

Campos said she is frustrated with how the early days of the investigation was handled by Cal Poly police because officers took her and her hallmates' statements in a group setting, where they were all providing ideas.

Campos said initial interviews by detectives in the case were “demoralizing” and shamed her for being friends with someone like Smart. Campos said the detectives focused on “high promiscuity” in their questions.

“There was so much defamation of character – there was a lot of unconscious bias in the case,” Campos said.

She said she felt like Cal Poly police didn’t take the early details of the case seriously.

Campos said the days after Smarts disappearance she wasn’t sleeping and said “it was a very scary time.” During the cross examination, Harold Mesick asked Campos if she had any idea where Smart might be.

“Kristin’s no longer alive,” Campos said after a long pause.

During Sanger’s continued cross examination, Campos said when San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office Det. Clint Cole took over the case, things seemed to change.

Campos said she contacted County Sheriff Ian Parkinson and set up a meeting with the lead investigator, Cole.

Campos said Cole had an “unbiased approach” to the case and she felt like her words would be heard.

Campos was excused and subject to recall.

The final witness to take the stand today was Det. Cole. He said when he began his investigation he wanted to look at everything fresh and did not initially consider Paul Flores a suspect. Cole said he reviews all his cases without an initial suspect.

Sanger asked Cole if he considered other people as suspects including Ted Munley, who the defense claims stayed in Smart’s dorm with another girl the night she disappeared; former Santa Barbara police officer Brian Sawicki who was convicted of a lewd conduct charge in 2012 and Scott Peterson, among others. Cole said he did not consider any of the people mentioned suspects.

Sanger mentioned near the end of the day about the defense “making arrangements for Peterson,” but it is unclear what that means for the hearing moving forward.

Peterson is serving life for murdering his wife and unborn child in 2004 – the defense has claimed Peterson was at the Crandall Way party. But, there has been no evidence related to Peterson that has been admitted so far.

The preliminary hearing will continue Monday, Aug. 9 at 9 a.m.

Lauren Walike joined KCBX as its news manager in February 2021. In addition to her KCBX work, Lauren also serves as news director for KCPR-FM, Cal Poly’s student-run radio station, and digital director of Mustang Media Group, Cal Poly’s student-run news organization. She will graduate from Cal Poly’s Honors Program in June 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in journalism with minors in Integrated Marketing Communications and Media Arts, Society and Technology.
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