A California jury has found Paul Flores, the man accused of the 1996 murder of Kristin Smart, guilty of first-degree murder, CNN affiliates KOVR and KEYT report.
Prosecutors alleged Flores, now 45, raped or attempted to rape Smart and killed her in his dorm room while he and the victim were students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and that his father helped move her body to his home in nearby Arroyo Grande, hiding her body for a time under his deck.
Smart’s disappearance haunted idyllic San Luis Obispo, a small college city with a little more than 47,000 residents, less than 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
Billboards in the community showed Smart’s face and asked for help solving her mysterious vanishing.
The Smart case attracted more public interest, with the popularity of a podcast delving into her disappearance called “Your Own Backyard,” which debuted in 2019. That podcast and authorities identified Paul Flores as the last person to see Smart alive.
They were both 19-year-old freshmen on the campus, which has a reputation for being among the most selective and academically rigorous in the California State system.
Smart’s body has never been found.
But almost 25 years after she disappeared, authorities said new evidence led to the arrest of Paul and Ruben Flores in April 2021.
Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle told jurors during the trial in July that searches of Ruben Flores’ house turned up soil samples that tested positive for human blood, CNN affiliate KSBY reported.
In documents filed in the case, a sheriff’s office detective stated investigators are “in possession of biological evidence that makes them believe the victim was buried underneath the defendant’s (Ruben Flores) deck at one time.”
Prosecutors believe the father and son moved the body to another location before authorities searched the property, affiliates KEYT and KRON reported.
The Floreses’ lawyers vehemently asserted their clients’ innocence, repeatedly citing a lack of eyewitnesses and evidence.
“A bunch of conspiracy theories not backed by facts,” said Paul Flores’ lawyer Robert Sanger, describing the prosecution’s case, according to CNN affiliate KEYT.
Harold Mesick, the attorney for Ruben Flores, said in his closing argument the case “screams reasonable doubt,” according to KSBY.
“Paul Flores and his dad didn’t bury this woman,” Mesick added.
The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office said Smart was last seen near her dormitory but never made it to her room.
She did not have identification, money or extra clothing when she disappeared, officials reported.
Smart was declared dead in 2002.
After authorities arrested Paul and Ruben Flores a year and a half ago, the family of Kristin Smart called it a bittersweet day.
“While Kristin’s loving spirit will always live in our hearts, our life without her hugs, laughs and smiles is a heartache that never abates,” they said in a statement.
John Segale, a family spokesperson, told CNN that Denise and Stan Smart are retired educators and live in Stockton, California.
“Justice delayed does not have to be justice denied,” Peuvrelle said in his closing argument last week, KSBY reported.
“The truth is Kristin was plucked off the face of the Earth by Paul Flores.”
The murder trial moved to Monterey County after a San Luis Obispo County judge ruled the Flores could not get a fair trial there because of too much pretrial publicity, KSBY reported.