Kristin Smart verdict: Paul Flores convicted of 1996 murder

Kristin Smart verdict: Paul Flores convicted of 1996 murder

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Kristin Smart, a 19-year-old student at California Polytechnic University, was last seen with fellow freshman Paul Flores in the early hours of a Saturday in May 1996, walking to her dorm after leaving an off-campus party.

On Tuesday, more than a quarter-century later, a California jury found Flores guilty in her murder.

Flores’s father, Ruben Flores, who had been accused of helping his son conceal Smart’s remains, was found not guilty of being an accessory to the murder. Smart’s body has not been found.

“Without Kristin, there’s no joy or happiness,” Stan Smart, her father, told reporters after the verdict. “This has been an agonizingly long journey, with more downs than ups,” he said, before thanking prosecutors for securing the guilty verdict for the younger Flores. But he said that with the senior Flores acquitted, the Smarts’ “quest for justice will continue.”

Paul Flores, 45, faces 25 years to life in prison, prosecutors said. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 9 at the Monterey County Superior Court in California. His attorney, Robert Sanger, declined to comment, saying “the matter is still pending.”

Ruben Flores, 81, told reporters Tuesday after the verdict that the evidence against him and his son had “too much made-up stuff,” and that the ruling was based on “feelings instead of facts.” He expressed sorrow for the Smarts, saying he believed they didn’t get answers about what had happened to their daughter. His attorney did not immediately reply to a request for comment Tuesday night.

20 years after Kristin Smart vanished, authorities unearth ‘items of interest’ in campus dig

After Smart’s disappearance, Paul Flores was initially designated a person of interest by authorities. He had a black eye at the time that he told investigators he had gotten during a basketball game with friends, who later contradicted his statement, the Associated Press reported. He then changed his story, saying he had bumped his head while working on his car.

Detectives interviewed a new witness in 2019, which led to search warrants for the homes of Flores and his family, officials said. In March 2021, investigators searched the home of Ruben Flores in Arroyo Grande, Calif., where authorities said they found “additional evidence related to the murder of Kristin Smart.”

In April last year, authorities arrested the younger Flores and his father, calling the former a “prime suspect.”

Prosecutors later told the jury that investigators had found a “clandestine grave” beneath the deck of the home of Ruben Flores, “believed to have previously held Kristin’s body.” Archaeologists working for police found a soil disturbance about the size of a casket and the presence of human blood, though the blood was too degraded to extract a DNA sample, the AP reported.

Prosecutors have previously said that they believe Flores raped, or at least tried to rape, Smart before killing her. The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office and the district attorney’s office could not be reached on Tuesday night.

In a statement after the verdict Tuesday, Sheriff Ian Parkison thanked Smart’s family for their “patience and support” during the long investigation. “I made a vow to them many years ago, that we would not let Kristin’s memory be forgotten. Nor would we let her killer go unpunished … But there is no true justice until Kristin is reunited with her family. This investigation will not be closed until we find Kristin.”

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