The judge presiding over the preliminary hearing for Paul and Ruben Flores ruled Wednesday morning that there is sufficient evidence to move the case forward to trial.
The two men are charged in connection with the 1996 disappearance of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart.
Smart was last seen walking back to the dorms with Paul Flores after attending an off-campus party.
While her remains have never been found, Kristin was declared legally dead in 2002.
Paul and Ruben Flores were arrested at their homes this past April, nearly 25 years after Kristin's disappearance.
Paul is charged with her murder. His father, Ruben, is charged as an accessory after the fact, accused of helping hide Kristin's body.
Paul Flores has remained in custody at the San Luis Obispo County Jail without bail since his arrest. Ruben is currently out on bail.
The judge's ruling followed a month and a half-long preliminary hearing which began on Monday, Aug. 2, and included testimony from more than two dozen witnesses, including current and former detectives, former friends and acquaintances of both Paul and Kristin, cadaver dog handlers, and soil experts.
Several people recalled seeing Paul walk Kristin, who was visibly drunk, back to the dorms after a party on Crandall Way early on the morning of May 25, 1996. Cadaver dog handlers who searched the dorms after she was reported missing testified that their dogs strongly alerted to Paul's room. Forensic experts testified they found human blood in the dirt beneath the deck of Ruben Flores's home in Arroyo Grande but were unable to detect any DNA.
During closing arguments on Monday, defense attorneys said the prosecution presented no real evidence and argued that there was no case against Paul or Ruben Flores.
However, in explaining his decision, Judge Craig van Rooyen said he has a strong suspicion that Kristin Smart was murdered and buried under Ruben's deck.
The judge based his decision on the standard of probable cause, which is a lesser standard of proof that will be used by a jury in trial.
The judge said, among the convincing evidence for him, was how Paul minimized his contact with Kristin the night of the party and how he was aware of her level of intoxication.
He also brought up how Paul admitted he lied about getting a black eye while playing basketball around the time of Kristin's disappearance and then said he got it while repairing a car stereo. The judge said his lies showed his "consciousness of guilt."
Judge Van Rooyen also brought up the four cadaver dogs that independently alerted to Paul's dorm room in June 1996 and how the defense did not call any expert witnesses to refute the science behind human remains detection.
Lastly, the judge touched on the recent excavations at Ruben's Arroyo Grande home.
While two dogs displayed a change of behavior while under the deck, that's not proof human remains were there, the judge said, but he pointed to how archaeologists and ground-penetrating radar surveyed under the deck and found an anomaly the size of a human body. Plus, soil staining under the deck tested positive for human blood.
The judge said, "nothing links it definitively to Ms. Smart" since no DNA was detected, but it leads to a reasonable suspicion that she was buried there.
The judge wrapped up his decision by pointing out how Ruben was protective of the deck and had knowledge of what was under it, leading to a strong suspicion it was Smart's remains.
Ruben's defense attorney, Harold Mesick, was asked for comment following the hearing.
"Gag order is still in place so can't comment. I'd love to comment, as you know, but I can't. So this is justice. This is our system. I believe in it, just disagree with the judge," he said. "I'm so dissurprised."
Following the judge's ruling on Wednesday, San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow said via Twitter, "We continue to support the family of Kristin Smart as we work toward justice."
The preliminary hearing has concluded in the cases of Paul and Ruben Flores. A judge has determined sufficient evidence was presented for the two to be tried.— SLO County Dist Atty (@SLOCounty_DA) September 22, 2021
"We continue to support the family of Kristin Smart as we work toward justice," said District Attorney Dan Dow. @dandow
The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office also commented via Twitter, saying, "We are extremely satisfied with the judge’s decision as we continue the fight for justice for Kristin Smart and her family."
The Sheriff’s Office acknowledges Judge van Rooyen’s ruling today that there is sufficient evidence to move the cases of Paul and Ruben Flores to trial. We are extremely satisfied with the judge’s decision as we continue the fight for justice for Kristin Smart and her family. pic.twitter.com/TVrwdwjAjF— SLO County Sheriff (@SLOSheriff) September 22, 2021
Paul and Ruben Flores are scheduled to be arraigned on October 20.