The man convicted of killing Kristin Smart, the California college student who vanished in 1996 and whose body has never been found, was sentenced Friday to 25 years to life in state prison.
The sentencing of Paul Flores is the culmination of a case that has captivated the world’s attention for more than a quarter-century. Flores, a long-time suspect in Smart’s death, was arrested in 2021 and convicted of first-degree murder last October.
When Smart disappeared at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, she was 19 years old. Flores was also a student at the school.
Despite the fact that Smart’s remains have never been discovered, she was ruled legally dead in 2002.
According to the prosecution, Flores, now 46, killed Smart on May 25, 1996, during an attempted rape in his dorm room at the university, where both of them were first-year students. He walked Smart home from an off-campus party and was the last person seen with her.
Flores was arrested in 2021, along with his father, who was accused of assisting in the hiding of Smart’s body.
After the defense argued that the case’s notoriety prevented Flores and his father from receiving a fair trial in their own county, the trial was held in Salinas, in Monterey County, about 110 miles north of San Luis Obispo.
In October, a jury declared Flores guilty of first-degree murder. Ruben Flores, 81, was exonerated by a different jury of being an accessory.
Robert Sanger, the defense attorney, attempted to blame a third party during Paul Flores’ trial. A student at the campus about 200 miles up the coast from Los Angeles, Scott Peterson was later found guilty in a high-profile trial of killing his pregnant wife and the unborn child, according to Sanger.
On February 24, Sanger submitted motions in Monterey County Superior Court asking for the dismissal of the charges and the acquittal of his client.
Sanger contested the prosecution’s use of forensic evidence. He claimed that the prosecution’s mistakes and “the admission of junk science as evidence” violated Flores’ right to a fair trial.
The motion stated, “There is a reason why a case against Paul Flores was not brought for 25 years. No proof existed that Paul Flores committed the murder or that it even occurred.
Paul Flores had been suspected of the murder for some time. When investigators spoke with him, he was sporting a black eye. He claimed he got it while playing basketball with friends, but they refuted this. According to court documents, he later changed his story to say that he bumped his head while working on his car.
Over a period of 20 years, investigators conducted dozens of fruitless searches for Smart’s body. They focused on Ruben Flores’ house in the neighborhood of Arroyo Grande, about 12 miles south of California Polytechnic State, for the past two years.
Archaeologists working for the police discovered a soil disturbance the size of a casket and the presence of human blood in March 2021 behind latticework beneath the deck of his large home on a dead end street, according to the prosecution. The blood was too degraded to extract a DNA sample.