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.

Paul Flores, 44, of San Pedro, pleaded not guilty to murder and his father Ruben Flores, 80, of Arroyo Grande, pleaded not guilty to accessory after the fact before Judge Craig Van Rooyen. Both defendants spoke from the County Jail remotely by video and appeared with their attorneys, Bob Sanger and Harold Mesick, respectively. 

Van Rooyen upheld Paul Flores’ no-bail amount but agreed to reevaluate the $250,000 bail set for Ruben Flores at a hearing scheduled for Wednesday, citing the possibility that he could spend the maximum legal penalty of three years for a conviction in pretrial detention due to lengthy case proceedings.

“Pretrial detention is the exception, not the rule,” Van Rooyen said. “We should not be punishing people before the case is proven against them.”

Paul Flores was arrested on April 13 and charged with murder the next day by the District Attorney’s Office, which also accuses him of killing Smart while trying to rape her.

Ruben Flores was arrested on the same day and is accused of hiding Smart’s body, which has never been located. She was declared legally dead in 2002. The arrests came after sealed search warrants were signed by a Superior Court judge.

Starting on the same day as the arrests, sheriff's officials searched Ruben Flores’ home in the 700 block of White Court in Arroyo Grande for two days, using power tools and other equipment, but did not release any new information.

During Monday's hearing, the judge approved the Wednesday hearing over the objection of Deputy District Attorney Chris Peuvrelle, who called Ruben Flores’ bail amount “woefully insufficient” and requested a no-bail amount.

Without getting into specific information contained in the sealed warrant affidavits, both attorneys made their cases. Van Rooyen approved a gag order for the case on April 15, which prevents officials and attorneys from making public statements about the case outside of court, except for times and dates of hearings. 

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“Ruben Flores is a fine, upstanding member [of] his community,” Mesick said, citing his ties to the area, military service and lack of criminal history. “His criminal history is pristine. He’s never been arrested, he’s never been charged, he’s never been in custody.”

In addition, Mesick cited his client’s medical issues, including recent triple bypass surgery, diabetes and more than a dozen prescription medications.

“He’s a medical nightmare for the jail and I believe if he remains in custody very much longer, this case will resolve, unfortunately, by his unnatural death,” Mesick said.

Peuvrelle cited public safety reasons and “common sense” that Ruben Flores should not get reduced bail, arguing he could interfere with the investigation or tamper with evidence if released.

Without getting into specifics, Mesick referenced and downplayed the soil evidence contained in the warrant affidavit, saying there could be numerous reasons why there could be a section of disturbed soil near the foundation of Ruben Flores’ house.

Peuvrelle, however, said that Mesick “ignores the logical conclusion to what was found” at the White Court residence.

Both defendants 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.