An attorney defending Paul Flores against a murder charge connected to the death and disappearance of 19-year-old Kristin Smart in 1996 filed a motion Aug. 11 asking state officials to disqualify prosecutors over purple clothing worn in court.
Bob Sanger, Flores’ attorney, filed the motion in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court and the state Department of Justice requesting a hearing to recuse the entire District Attorney's Office, including Deputy District Attorney Chris Peuvrelle, the lead prosecutor.
In the motion, Sanger accused Peuvrelle of a conflict interest due to coordination between officials to wear purple clothing during a preliminary hearing because it was Smart’s favorite color.
Sanger said the conflict of interest in a high-profile case would “render it unlikely” for Flores to receive a fair trial, citing case law and the state and federal constitutions, including the 5th, 6th and 14th amendments.
“A fair and impartial trial is fundamental to due process, and the prosecutor must respect that requirement by exercising his or her discretionary powers impartially,” Sanger wrote in the filing.
A K9 handler on Wednesday recounted on the witness stand how both of her cadaver dogs alerted her to a strong scent emanating from a particular room during a search of Cal Poly’s Santa Lucia Hall dorm on the morning of June 29, 1996.
Sanger also claimed the district attorney's victim witness coordinator has been conveying the "prejudicial message" to witnesses that the office is "on the side" of Smart's family.
Paul Flores, 44, of San Pedro is charged with the murder of Smart, who went missing on May 25, 1996. His father, 80-year-old Ruben Flores, is charged with accessory to murder after the fact and is accused of hiding her body.
Paul Flores, who was also 19 at the time, is the last known person to be seen with Smart at approximately 2:30 a.m., only steps away from their dorms on Cal Poly’s campus. She hasn’t been since then. Smart was declared legally dead in 2002 and her body has never been found.
Paul and Ruben Flores were arrested on April 13 and charged the next day in connection to Smart’s disappearance. Their preliminary hearing began Aug. 2 in Superior Court. Both men have pleaded not guilty.
The coordination came to the attention of Sanger when he was informed that sheriff's Detective Clint Cole, the lead investigator on the case, had worn a purple tie every day of the hearing, according to the motion.
Sanger said he also noticed purple clothing worn by Peuvrelle and other District Attorney's Office staff in the courtroom on the same days and other occasions.
On Aug. 10, during the seventh day of the preliminary hearing, Cole testified and was asked why he wore a purple tie. Cole explained he wanted to show solidarity for Smart and that it was the result of a Facebook group advocating for Paul Flores' conviction. The group also encouraged supporters to wear purple, according to the motion.
Superior Court Judge Craig Van Rooyen said he was wearing a purple tie and had no idea that it was Smart’s favorite color. Sanger said Peuvrelle wore a tie with a "significant amount of purple," although Peuvrelle said his tie was red and navy blue.
“We decided it would be ineffective assistance of counsel if we don’t file,” Sanger said Aug. 11.
The motion is scheduled for a hearing at 9 a.m. Aug. 25 in Department 5 of Superior Court.