A California jury has found Paul Flores, the man accused of killing Kristin Smart in 1996, guilty of first-degree murder, according to a news release from the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office.
Meanwhile, a separate jury found Flores’ father, Ruben, now 81, not guilty of being an accessory to Smart’s murder, the release said.
“The impact that Kristin’s disappearance and its investigation has had on the Smart family and our community spanning a quarter of a century is profound,” District Attorney Dan Dow said in the release. “We thank them for the tremendous trust and patience they have shown in the investigation and prosecution of this horrific crime. This sentence provides some sense of justice for Kristin, the Smarts and our community. Today, justice delayed is not justice denied.”
Paul Flores faces 25 years to life in prison for the conviction, the release states. He is scheduled to be sentenced on December 9.
Ruben Flores told reporters outside the courtroom that he is worried about his son and “there is no evidence against anyone.”
“It’s too bad the system works that way, on emotion instead of facts,” Ruben Flores said, adding that he felt sorry for Smart’s family because they never got a true answer to what happened to their daughter.
Prosecutors alleged that 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 the nearby Arroyo Grande, hid her body for a time under his deck.
Smart’s disappearance haunted idyllic San Luis Obispo, a small college town of just over 47,000 residents, less than 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
Billboards in the community displayed Smart’s face and asked for help solving her mysterious disappearance.
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 in live.
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 nearly 25 years after she disappeared, authorities said new evidence led to the arrest of Paul and Ruben Flores in April 2021.
Deputy Prosecutor Christopher Peuvrelle told jurors at 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 that investigators are “in possession of biological evidence that leads them to believe that the victim was buried under the defendant’s (Ruben Flores) tire 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’ attorneys staunchly maintained their clients’ innocence, repeatedly citing a lack of eyewitnesses and evidence.
“A bunch of conspiracy theories not supported by the facts,” said Paul Flores’ attorney Robert Sanger, outlining the prosecution’s case, according to CNN affiliate KEYT.
Harold Mesick, the attorney for Ruben Flores, said in his closing argument that the case “screams reasonable doubt,” according to KSBY.
“Paul Flores and his father did not bury this woman,” Mesick added.
The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office said Smart was last seen near her dorm, but never made it to her room.
She did not have identification, money or extra clothing when she disappeared, officials reported.
Smart was pronounced 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 on in our hearts, our lives without her hugs, laughs and smiles are a heartache that will never abate,” they said in a statement.
John Segale, a family spokesman, told CNN that Denise and Stan Smart are retired educators and live in Stockton, California.
“Justice delayed need not be justice denied,” Peuvrelle said in his closing argument last week, KSBY reported.
“The truth is that Kristin was ripped off the face of the earth by Paul Flores.”
The homicide case moved to Monterey County after a San Luis Obispo County judge ruled that Flores could not get a fair trial there because of too much pretrial publicity, KSBY reported.