Many of the people involved in the Kristin Smart murder trial were under a court imposed gag order for over a year, but once a verdict was handed down, that order was lifted.
KSBY anchor Richard Gearhart sat down with Prosecutor Christopher Peuvrelle and District Attorney Investigator J.T. Camp to get their perspective on the case.
Even after 25 years, countless hours of investigation and multiple search warrants, the case against Flores was largely based on circumstantial evidence.
Peuvrelle says even though they didn’t have a body, what they did have was multiple people who’d interacted with both Smart and Flores and they’d waited years to be able to tell their stories to a jury.
“Forensic cases can be clinical and unemotional, but this one, you had people who had, who had held on to guilt and other feelings for decades and years,” Peuvrelle said, “and that helped convey to the jury that Kristin Smart didn't just run off, but that she was dead. And so in some ways, having that type of direct evidence became more impactful, especially with the passage of time.”
Slowly building enough evidence to get a conviction but never quite getting that big break made the case extremely complicated.
“But in terms of the evidence we had and what we were able to present, I think looking at it as a giant jigsaw puzzle, we got the pieces that we needed and they were presented and it came out in court as it should have and as we'd hoped for,” Camp said.
As an investigator working in the district attorney’s office, Camp was assigned the case in 2021 to help tie any loose ends together working alongside cold case Detective Clint Cole from the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.
“So for us, it was pretty unique. I was assigned on a temporary basis to the sheriff's office at the time, so I was a days office employee, but assigned to the sheriff's office. I'm working a collaborative effort there, so it'll have been a really good opportunity to have direct access to the sheriff's office, their resources, the reports, and Detective Cole, but also having a foot at the DA's office and having direct contact with Chris and whatever resources we needed at our office,” Camp said.
Peuvrelle was also a relative newcomer to the case. He isn’t originally from the area and only heard about Smart's disappearance after his wife started listening to the podcast “Your Own Backyard.” When Peuvrelle got the chance to work on the case, he agreed knowing it would be a commitment but had no idea that commitment would turn into two-plus years and a temporary move out of the county to Salinas.
Once it came to trial time, he says he was ready.
“I wasn't concerned when we got to trial because I knew I had the truth on my side and I knew that was going to carry the day ultimately once the jury saw the truth, so there was never a point when I was particularly concerned. Now, that being said, there was also never a time when I said I had it, because when you have 12 jurors, all of whom bring their own perspectives and their own life experience, you just never know what decisions they're going to make,” Peuvrelle said.
Even without a body, he says the evidence was there.
“I can tell you, for me, the two most impactful pieces of evidence were Paul's videotaped interview from June of 1996, which I think was the best evidence in the case. I found it to be just really a glimpse into a 19-year-old with zero remorse. Like I said in sentencing, a true psychopath who just didn't care that Kristin was missing and that her parents were looking for her and that the community was looking for her,” Peuvrelle said, adding, “And he lied throughout that entire interview, so in such a cavalier fashion, unlike every other human who was involved in this case, who did what they could to try and find Kristin. Then the second piece of evidence was the grave site underneath the deck at 710 White Court. Once blood was found in that gravesite, to me, I was, I was convinced I was ready to convict Paul Flores from there.”
In the end, that evidence was enough to convict Flores of first-degree murder, but wasn’t enough to convince a separate jury his father Ruben Flores was guilty of helping him cover up the crime.
Both Peuvrelle and Camp agree that split verdict and the fact Kristin’s parents are still without their daughter’s remains are their biggest regrets.
“Yeah, I think all the emotions, I think it was the relief. I think the satisfaction, you know, of course, I think there's a little sadness and disappointment with the split verdict and the fact that, you know, we still strive to find where Kristin is, so it's, it's kind of the entire spectrum of feelings that, you know, it was a huge undertaking,” Camp said.
The trial ultimately ended with career changes for both Peuvrelle and Camp. Peuvrelle is now the lead investigator for the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office and Camp has been promoted to an administrative role within the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office.