Kristin Smart

Kristin Smart’s Case

Paul Flores  has been  found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Kristin Smart, a missing California college student, 25 years ago. Ruben Flores, Flores’ father, was found not guilty of being an accessory after the fact for allegedly aiding in the concealment of the crime.

In the same courtroom, the conflicting verdicts were read out loud.

Over Memorial Day weekend in 1996, Smart vanished from California Polytechnic State University. Her remains were never discovered.

Prosecutors believe the younger Flores, now 45, murdered the 19-year-old during an attempted rape on May 25, 1996, in his dorm room at Cal Poly, where they were both first-year students. He was the last person seen with Smart, walking her home from an off-campus party where she had become inebriated.

His father, now 81, allegedly assisted in the burying of the slain student behind his home in the nearby community of Arroyo Grande, and later dug up and relocated the remains.

Robert Sanger, the son’s defense attorney, had attempted to blame the killing on someone else, pointing out that Scott Peterson, who was later convicted in a sensational trial of murdering his pregnant wife and the fetus she was carrying, was also a Cal Poly student at the time.

During closing arguments, the son’s defence attorney, Robert Sanger, told jurors that no attempted rape occurred and questioned witness testimony, including that of a student in Smart’s dorm who testified to seeing Flores in Smart’s room.

He also referred to the prosecution’s forensic evidence as “junk science.”

“This case was never prosecuted because there was no evidence,” Sanger explained. “It’s unfortunate that Kristin Smart went missing; she may have gone out on her own, but who knows?”

Paul Flores had long been suspected of the murder. When investigators interviewed him, he had a black eye. According to court records, he told them he got it while playing basketball with friends, who denied his story. He later changed his story, claiming that he hit his head while working on his car.

However, after the case was reopened in 2021, the father and son were arrested.

Over the past two decades, investigators have conducted dozens of fruitless searches for Smart’s body, but in the last two years they have focused their efforts on Ruben Flores’ home in Arroyo Grande, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of Cal Poly.

Archaeologists working for police discovered a soil disturbance the size of a casket and the presence of human blood behind latticework beneath the deck of his large house on a dead end street in March 2021, prosecutors said. The blood was too contaminated to obtain a DNA sample.

After a judge granted the defense’s request to relocate the trial, it was held in Salinas, 110 miles north of San Luis Obispo. The defense argued that because the Flores were so well-known in the city of 47,000 people, a fair trial was unlikely.

Paul Flores is scheduled to be sentenced in December.

Stan Smart, Smart’s father, spoke after the verdicts, thanking Chris Lambert, the creator of the “In Your Own Backyard” podcast, for bringing new attention and leads to the case.

“With today’s split verdict, we learned that our quest for justice for Kristin will continue after 26 years,” Smart said.

The commitment of jurors in the case, he said, “restored our faith in the justice system.”

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