A judge on April 21 reduced bail for a man accused of helping his son hide the body of missing Cal Poly student Kristin Smart from $250,000 to $50,000.
During the hearing in San Luis Obispo, Superior Court Judge Craig Van Rooyen set forth terms of a possible release that would prevent Ruben Flores, 80, from leaving San Luis Obispo County and would require him to wear an electronic ankle monitor. He also would have to turn over his passport, which has expired, according to his attorney Harold Mesick.
Ruben Flores appeared from County Jail during the hearing via Zoom that included Mesick, who agreed to the release terms after arguing his client shouldn’t be punished with a high bail amount.
“After he pays his fixed expenses, he’s close to poor,” Mesick said. “His regular income is poor, but that’s because he’s taking money out of his retirement account and that’s causing him to have to pay a penalty. He’s bleeding every month.”
The father and son charged in the 1996 disappearance and suspected death of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart pleaded not guilty to murder charges Monday in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court.
Ruben Flores was arrested on April 13 and charged on April 14 with accessory to murder. His son, 44-year-old Paul Flores, was arrested on the same day and charged with the murder of Smart, who went missing on May 25, 1996, and was declared legally dead in 2002.
Paul Flores remains in County Jail without a bail amount and was the last person seen with Smart, whose body has never been located. Both Ruben and Paul Flores pleaded not guilty on Monday.
Van Rooyen approved the lower bail amount after reviewing a statement of assets provided by Ruben Flores, although Deputy District Attorney Chris Peuvrelle argued that the same statement proves he can afford “ample” bail and renewed his request for the original amount.
The scheduled bail amount for an accessory charge is $20,000, although that could vary between charges, such as robbery or murder, Peuvrelle told Van Rooyen, who referred to Monday’s hearing in which he stated that Ruben Flores could spend the entire three-year sentence for his charge in pretrial detention.
“As we discussed at the last hearing, the court cannot find there is no less-restrictive means than to protect public safety and ensure [Ruben Flores’] appearances than to keep him in custody, so I’m not going to detain him, and setting bail at something more than he can afford is a detention under the law,” Van Rooyen said.
In addition, Van Rooyen said he may be able to revisit what bail amount Ruben Flores could afford if additional information is provided.
Mesick agreed to the electronic ankle bracelet, which would be administered by the County Probation Department.
Additionally, Mesick said that a high bail amount will deprive Ruben Flores of the ability to afford two defense experts, including a biologist and a soils expert.
At Monday’s hearing, Mesick referred to sealed search warrants executed in March and April at Ruben Flores’ home in the 700 block of White Court, where sheriff's investigators allegedly found a portion of recently disturbed soil near the house’s foundation, although he did not get into specifics but said evidence provided by the prosecution is “more than ambiguous.”
Starting on the same day as the arrests, sheriff's officials searched the Arroyo Grande home for two days, using power tools and other equipment, but did not release any new information.
Peuvrelle said it was “common sense” to not lower the bail amount because Ruben Flores could tamper with evidence or interfere with the investigation.
Paul and Ruben Flores are scheduled to reappear for preliminary hearing motions at 1:30 p.m. on May 17 and again at 1:30 p.m. on June 21 in Superior Court. A preliminary hearing that is expected to last up to 12 days is tentatively scheduled for July 6.