SLO County DA asks court to deny motion seeking new trial for Paul Flores

The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office asked the Monterey County Superior Court to deny a motion seeking another trial for convicted murderer Paul Flores.

“The claims of misconduct are baseless and the claims of judicial error are incorrect,” the District Attorney’s Office said in its response.

The jury convicted Flores of murder Cal Poly student Kristin Smart in October, after his attorney, Robert Sanger, made nine unsuccessful requests for a mistrial.

Sanger filed two motions for a new trial and a judgment of acquittal Feb. 24, asking the judge to overturn his client’s conviction by a Monterey County jury because he claimed the trial evidence did not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

In its motion, released Monday, the DA’s office said the claims in Sanger’s motions “appear to willfully misrepresent the actual arguments of the prosecutor and the defense.”

The judge will hear the motions March 10.

If denied, Flores’ sentencing will take place immediately after.

Defense attorney: Prosecutor made ‘egregious errors’

Sanger claims that Chris Peuvrelle, who prosecuted the case as a deputy district attorney for the SLO County District Attorney’s Office, made several prosecutorial errors during his opening and closing arguments.

Peuvrelle’s “blatant mischaracterization of the burden of proof” was one of the “most egregious errors,” Sanger said in the motion, particularly in his rebuttal to Sanger’s closing arguments.

In his closing arguments, Sanger called the prosecution’s case a conspiracy theory.

Peuvrelle, who is now a supervising attorney for Monterey Countyreplied in rebuttal that it was “absurd” for more than 50 witnesses, six cadaver dogs and the media to be in on a grand conspiracy theory.

Sanger also argued the prosecution’s expert witnesses were not experts and testified authoritatively without a scientific basis.

The motion called forensic evidence presented by the prosecution “junk science.”

Finally, Sanger argued in the motion that Jennifer Hudson, who testified that Flores told her in 1996 that he killed Smartperjured herself on the stand.

The defense attorney alleged the prosecution allowed Hudson to do so, even though San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office detectives failed to corroborate her story.

Sanger also claimed the prosecution “concealed” the fact that one of the women who testified she was raped by FloresRhonda Doe, went to Cal Poly in 1996, “during the drama and accusations against the defendant.”

Sanger also claimed the judge “erroneously excluded” defense evidence, including testimony from a man who claimed Smart was stalking him, one of Smart’s ex-boyfriends and another man who claimed Smart told him she was pregnant with his child.

Smart’s psychological report was also not admitted into the trial but should have been, the motion said.

SLO County DA asks court to deny motion

The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office denied that any “prosecutorial error” was made during Peuvrelle’s rebuttal argument.

Case law explains that a prosecutor’s statements must be evaluated “in the context of the argument and the jury’s instructions” to decide if there is a “reasonable likelihood the jury understood or applied the comments in an improper or erroneous manner,” the report said.

During the Flores trial, the jury instructions explained that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Flores murdered Smart in order to convict him.

In his closing argument, Peuvrelle said, “(Sanger) would have you believe that it’s not just possible but a reasonable interpretation that 50-something witnesses, spanning 26 years, are involved in a grand conspiracy to convict Paul Flores. He would have you believe that six dogs are involved in a grand conspiracy to convict Paul Flores. …

“Just for that, counsel has presented you with a binary choice. Is this a conspiracy theory? Is that the truth? Or is it true that Paul Flores is guilty of first-degree murder.”

After closing arguments, Sanger made a motion for a mistrial claiming that Peuvrelle misstated the burden of proof in this argument.

The court denied Sanger’s motion, responding that the jury instructions override all statements made by the attorneys during the trial.

Sanger included the argument about mischaracterization of the burden of proof in his Feb. 24 motion for a mistrial as well.

The prosecution noted that the judge had already disagreed with this claim, and that Peuvrelle did not confuse the jury about the burden of proof required to convict Flores.

“(Peuvrelle’s) words made clear that he was criticizing the defense argument … and not telling the jury that if they found the defense theory unreasonable they therefore must find Paul Flores guilty,” the prosecution wrote in its response to the motion.

The prosecution also disputed Sanger’s argument, which stated that Peuvrelle “violated the court’s ruling” by asking if a woman ball-gagged in a photo, found on Flores’ computer, looked like she was “having fun.”

Peuvrelle’s full statement was, “(Sanger) said, Conspiracy theories are fun. Okay, maybe you think it’s possible that everybody, the dogs, are in on it. Did it look like the woman with the ball gag in her mouth was having fun in this conspiracy theory,” according to the report. “Did it look like anybody was having fun? No. Because this is not a fun case. I apologize but you have seen things in this case no human being should see.”

“From the context of the argument, it is clear that the prosecutor is addressing the defense claim that all of the evidence was manufactured, tainted or mischaracterized by highlighting the absurdity of the notion that all of the evidence and all of the people involved were out to get Mr. Flores,” the DA’s response read. “The use of the “having fun” phrase was a rhetorical flourish of repetition and did not violate the court’s order.”

The DA’s response also argued that its witnesses were credible and the prosecution’s use of evidence was accurate.

The prosecution also argued that Sanger “committed sanctionable offenses,” as California law forbids lawyers to “knowingly make false statements,” according to the DA’s response.

“In their motion, the defense mischaracterized their own argument, they mischaracterized the prosecutor’s argument, they failed to include many all of the actual statements they were challenging and when they did they failed to provide the surrounding statements that provided necessary context,” the response said.

In addition, the prosecution argued that using Hudson’s testimony was appropriate.

“Jennifer Hudson testified at a preliminary hearing and was honest and credible at Preliminary Hearing. She also testified at trial and was honest and credible at trial,” the DA’s response said. “She was extremely emotional during her testimony as she expressed regret for not having come forward sooner. The jury clearly thought she was credible and rejected the defense’s non-stop personal attacks and unprofessional line of questioning against her.”

Finally, the prosecution argued that the court appropriately chose what evidence to exclude from the trial, such as Smart’s psychological report.

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