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Judge grants change of venue in trial for Paul, Ruben Flores

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Posted at 7:31 AM, Mar 30, 2022

UPDATE - The trial for Paul and Ruben Flores will not take place in San Luis Obispo County.

San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Craig van Rooyen made the decision Wednesday during a motion hearing for the case.

Before announcing his decision, both Ruben and Paul’s attorneys argued why they felt the trial should be moved before a San Luis Obispo County DA prosecutor argued against it.

Van Rooyen says he took everything presented so far into consideration but says he finds it a reasonable likelihood Paul and Ruben won’t receive a fair and impartial trial in San Luis Obispo County.

The main factors that contributed to his decision were years of publicity and the county's size.

He said it's probably the most highly covered case in San Luis Obispo County's history, adding that it's been the focus of intense local scrutiny that’s only increased over time.

The judge said he understands the People's argument that national coverage of the case has saturated other California counties as well, but he went on to say, "I just don't think this case is discussed around the dinner tables in other places the way it is in this county."

Judge Van Rooyen said there are not enough people or diversity in San Luis Obispo County at this point to dilute the widespread media coverage.

On Monday, April 4 there will be a status conference at 8:30 a.m. on Zoom.
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It has been nearly one year since Paul and Ruben Flores were arrested in the 1996 murder of Cal Poly student, Kristin Smart.

Paul, 45, is charged with Smart's murder, and his father, Ruben, is charged with accessory after the fact and is accused of helping hide Smart's body.

A hearing on Wednesday will decide whether the murder trial will be moved out of San Luis Obispo County.

On March 9, the defense filed a change of venue motion. Lawyers pointed to the extensive media coverage of the case and the prominence of Smart's likeness in the community on billboards and at memorials, as well as a podcast dedicated to her disappearance.

The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney's Office says the defense's arguments do not demonstrate that the two men will be unable to get a fair and impartial trial in San Luis Obispo County. The office adds that the defense has not proven any negative impact on a potential jury pool.

Wednesday's hearing is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. The trial is currently set to begin in San Luis Obispo County on April 25.

The case has been making its way through the court system fairly quickly, with the lengthy preliminary hearing take place less than six months after the Flores' arrests.

It was during that hearing that additional evidence was released, including documents revealing that investigators believe Smart's body was buried in Ruben's backyard and then dug up and moved in 2020.