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Paul Flores sentenced to 25 years to life for 1996 murder of Kristin Smart

Paul Flores had long been a suspect in Smart’s disappearance, but it took 25 years before he was finally found guilty of her murder

Bevan Hurley
Friday 10 March 2023 23:41 GMT
Paul Flores found guilty of Kristin Smart's murder
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Paul Flores has been sentenced to 25 years to life in prison without parole for the 1996 murder of California student Kristin Smart.

Monterey County Superior Court Judge Jennifer O’Keefe imposed the maximum possible sentence after hearing emotional witness statements from Smart’s family members.

Prior to Friday’s sentencing, Judge O’Keefe dismissed motions by the defence for a new trial and to overturn Flores’ guilty verdict.

Smart, a student at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, vanished in May 1996 while walking home from a party.

Her body has never been found, and she was declared dead in 2002. Despite witness and forensic evidence linking Flores to the murder, it remained unsolved for 25 years until prosecutors charged him with Smart’s murder in April 2021.

Flores was convicted after a three-and-a-half-month jury trial in October 2022. The trial was shifted to Monterey, after defence attorneys argued it would be impossible for him to receive a fair trial in San Luis Obispo, given the notoriety of the case.

His father Ruben Flores was tried alongside his son on a charge of being an accessory to the murder, but was acquitted.

Mr Flores and wife Susan attended Friday’s sentencing.

On 24 May 1996, Smart, 19, attended an off-campus party with her roommate Margarita Campos and fellow students at California Polytechnic State University, known as Cal Poly.

Paul Flores was convicted os Smart’s murder after a three and a half month jury trial in October 2022. (AP)

The pair separated as Ms Campos wanted to return to their dorm room early, while Smart stayed out.

According to prosecutors, Paul Flores murdered Smart while attempting to rape her at his dorm room.

They maintained he was the last person to see Smart alive and walked home with her after she became intoxicated.

A sign raises public awareness in the case of missing student Kristin Smart in the California central coast town of Arroyo Grande in May 2006 (Don Kelsen/Shutterstock)

Paul Flores had long been a suspect in Smart’s disappearance, and was the subject of a wrongful death suit brought by her family in the 1990s.

When investigators came to interview him he had a black eye, which he blamed on a basketball game with friends.

They denied his account, and he later changed his story to say he bumped his head on a car.

It was only after renewed attention on the case after the release of Chris Lambert’s podcast Your Own Backyard in 2019 that the investigation ramped up again.

When the Floreses were arrested in 2021, authorities credited the podcast with bringing “valuable” new information forward.

Dozens of searches were conducted of Smart’s remains over the years.

Prosecutors told the jury that his father helped bury the first-year student behind his home in nearby Arroyo Grande, and later dug up the remains and moved them.

Paul Flores’ father Ruben was acquitted of being an accessory to Kristin Smart’s murder (AP)

Over the years investigators conducted dozens of searches in the San Luis Obispo area for Smart’s body.

In March 2021, archaeologists found a soil disturbance about the size of a coffin and the presence of human blood at Ruben Flores’ Arroyo Grande home.

The blood did not yield a positive DNA sample, but prosecutors were able to convince a jury using circumstantial evidence and Paul Flores’ shifting statements over the years.

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