SALINAS, Calif. (KRON) — Kristin Smart’s accused killer will be put on trial in Monterey County, a judge ruled on Wednesday.

San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Craig Van Rooyen granted a change of venue request filed by defense attorneys for Paul and Ruben Flores.

Smart was a 19-year-old freshman at California Polytechnic State University when she disappeared in 1996.

Murder trials are rarely moved from one county to another, especially for a killing that happened nearly 30 years ago.

The disappearance and death of Kristin Smart, however, sent shockwaves through San Luis Obispo County that still have a profound impact on the minds of many Central Californians today, the judge acknowledged.

Kristin Smart
Kristin Smart

Attorneys for Paul and Ruben Flores argued that, even in 2022, there was little chance of finding an unbias jury pool for a fair trial in SLO county.

Paul Flores, 45, was the last person seen with Smart before she vanished from her college town. Paul Flores was a longtime suspect, but he was not arrested until April of last year when detectives found new evidence.

He is charged with murder, and his father, Ruben Flores, is charged with accessory for allegedly helping to hide Smart’s body.

Smart was last seen alive around 2 a.m. on May 25, 1996 when she left a party with two fellow students.

As they were walking backs to the dorms, Paul Flores joined the group and said he would make sure Smart made it home safely. Witnesses said Smart was intoxicated.

Paul Flores listens during his preliminary hearing on Aug. 3, 2021. He is charged with murdering Kristin Smart. (David Middlecamp/ The Tribune / AP Pool)

Investigators said they believe Paul Flores killed Smart in her dorm room while attempting to rape her. Smart’s body has never been found.

Investigators suspect that her body was buried under Ruben Flores’ house for decades before it was “recently” moved, court documents state. A search of the house last year uncovered traces of blood in soil under the house at 710 White Court in Arroyo Grande.

The San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office searches the backyard of the home of Ruben Flores on March 16, 2021, in Arroyo Grande, Calif. (AP Photo/Daniel Dreifuss)
A 2021 search under Ruben Flores’ house found traces of blood and recently dug-up soil. (San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office photo)

An archaeologist found a “major disturbance” of soil in 4-foot-by-6-foot plot, as if “someone dug the soil out and put it back,” according to court documents.

“The excavation below his deck … showed damning evidence that a body had been buried in that location and then recently moved,” prosecutor Christopher Peuvrelle said.

“It is reasonable to believe Ruben Flores currently knows the location of Kristin Smart’s remains,” Peuvrelle said. 

Another high-profile California murder trial, the Scott Peterson trial of 2004, was also granted a change of venue in the interest of finding a fair and unbias jury. His trial was moved from Stanislaus County to San Mateo County.

Scott Peterson
Scott Peterson talks to his attorneys on Feb. 25, 2022. (AP / Pool Photo)

Coincidentally, Kristin Smart, Paul Flores, Scott Peterson, and Laci Peterson were all students at Cal Poly in 1996.

No evidence has ever connected Peterson to Smart’s disappearance. Prosecutors say Peterson was long ago ruled out as a suspect in the Smart case.

Scott Peterson’s defense attorney told KRON4 that he was already dating Laci Peterson in 1996 and he never met Smart.

Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant when she disappeared in Modesto in 2002. Scott Peterson was convicted by a San Mateo County jury of murdering his wife and unborn son.

Scott Peterson is currently fighting for a retrial back in San Mateo County. According to his defense team, a “stealth juror” lied to be picked for the jury to make sure he was found guilty.

Closing arguments for Scott Peterson’s juror misconduct hearing are scheduled for June 29.

The last time a trial was moved from San Luis Obispo County to another county was for Rex Krebs. Krebs was convicted of raping and killing Cal Poly student Rachel Newhouse and Cuesta College student Aundria Crawford in 1999.

The Kristin Smart murder trial was originally set to begin on Monday.

Judge Van Rooyen pushed jury selection back to an undetermined date, and scheduled a hearing for next week to set a timeline.

The Monterey County courthouse where Paul and Ruben Flores will go on trial is located in Salinas.