The mother, father and brother of missing California college student Kristin Smart, who disappeared after an off-campus party over 26 years ago, testified against the father and son accused in connection with her death, according to reports.
Denise Smart appeared emotional and nervous as she testified on Thursday, when San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle called her to the stand as one of his first witnesses in the long-awaited trial, according to local news station CBS13.
"I felt like the life of my daughter was of no value to anyone except her family," Smart told the court.
Paul Flores is accused of killing Smart while both were freshman at California Polytechnic State University’s San Luis Obispo campus in 1996. Prosecutors have said Flores killed Smart on May 25, 1996.
Paul Flores, now 45, is charged with murder in connection with Smart's presumed death. His now-81-year-old father, Ruben, is charged with helping his son bury Smart’s remains. He allegedly later unearthed and relocated the remains.
Paul was allegedly the last person seen with Smart, who was said to have been intoxicated after they and others had attended an off-campus frat party over the Memorial Day weekend.
The state has said Paul Flores killed Smart in his dorm room while he tried to rape her when they were both freshman. A massive search ensued, but Smart’s remains were never found.
"And while the entire community banded together to search for Kristin desperately, Paul and Ruben Flores did not join in," Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle told the jury in his opening statements. "You will hear Ruben Flores would tear down missing posters of Kristin — tore down her smiling, beautiful face — called her a ‘dirty slut,’ all while her corpse was decomposing underneath his deck."
Defense attorneys tried to poke holes in prosecutors’ statements in their own opening remarks on Monday. Paul Flores’ lawyer also attempted to discredit the use of cadaver dogs and the forensic evidence to which prosecutors have pointed. Ruben’s defense attorney emphasized that investigators have not uncovered any DNA evidence.
The trial was "unexpectedly" delayed on Tuesday until Thursday, a court spokesperson said. The court proceedings are not televised or live-streamed.
During her testimony on Thursday, Denise Smart described the ways in which law enforcement and Cal Poly personnel initially mishandled her daughter’s case, according to CBS13.
"For the next 25 years, I did whatever I could and looked for answers wherever I could," she reportedly said.
Denise Smart described how she sent what she called a "buckle up, buttercup" letter to her daughter in May 1996, when she was struggling with adjusting to Cal Poly, according to the report. She reportedly described how she had intended for the letter to service as a reminder that her daughter could overcome the challenge.
"I never would’ve thought it was my last letter to write to my daughter," Denise Smart reportedly said. "And because in this day and age, this would’ve been an extended phone conversation, and we did not have that opportunity."
Kristin Smart’s younger brother, Matt, took the stand after his mother, and said the family had turned the dining room of their house into a "war room" as they searched for his sister in the immediate aftermath, according to the report.
"Imagine a wall map of North America, of California put up on the wall in your house, thumb tacks put up here and there," he said. He later added: "Everything from going out on hikes and searches with my dad or my family.. it’s so innumerable the number of things we’ve done to try to make contact with Kristin. I struggle to put words to that… what exactly the words would be to do justice to the amount of searching we’ve done."
He reportedly described how his sister has missed all major milestones in his life for more than two decades.
"Not only did she miss the birth of my kids, but she missed every major event in my life in 26 years," Matt Smart said.
Kristin Smart’s father, Stan, took the stand after his son. Stan Smart described how he spent "about three months" searching for his daughter in San Luis Obispo County, according to tweets from the "Your Own Backyard" podcast, which is credited with reviving public interest in the case.
"Crawled through culverts. Walked along the highway," Stan reportedly said. "Looked many many places. I could’ve been a tour guide."
Asked if he ever saw Paul and Ruben Flores among people searching, he said, "No."
Stan Smart was also reportedly questioned about the time he went to Ruben Flores’ home, according to the podcast’s tweets. He acknowledged he did not call before showing up at Ruben Flores’ home, and said he "was just aware he was the parent of the youngster my daughter walked home with."
"He came out when I drove by and I told him who I was and that I’d like to talk," the tweets state. "He told me I better leave or someone might get shot."
The defense team’s cross-examination of Stan Smart was cut short on Thursday evening, and is expected to resume on Friday.
The trial is expected to take an estimated four months. Separate juries were selected from a pool of more than 1,500 Monterey County residents to oversee each case.