Paul Flores Convicted of Murder in 1996 Killing of Kristin Smart

Kristin Smart vanished May 25, 1996 as she walked to her California Polytechnic State University dorm from an off-campus party.

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Paul Flores was found guilty of first-degree murder Tuesday in the killing of Kristin Smart, a Central California coast college student who disappeared after an off-campus party in 1996.

Father Ruben Flores, who was charged in a separate trial as an accessory for allegedly helping to bury the body, was found not guilty. Both verdicts were announced Tuesday in court.

Paul Flores, a 45-year-old former California Polytechnic State University student, was the last person seen with Smart on May 25, 1996, as he walked with her to her dorm after a party off campus, witnesses said. Prosecutors said he killed Smart while trying to rape her in his dorm room.

Monterey County Superior Court Judge Jennifer O’Keefe thanked the jurors for their service after the guilty verdict in the murder case was announced.

“I wish to express to you the appreciation and that of the parties for your service in this case,” she said. “It is a great personal sacrifice to serve as a juror... You have been very attentive and conscientious throughout this case.”

During the preliminary hearing, prosecutors presented evidence from handlers who said their cadaver dogs stopped at Flores' room and alerted to the scent of death near his bed. Archaeologists who used ground penetrating radar and dug up the soil beneath Ruben Flores' back deck, said they found indications the soil had been disturbed in a way similar to a gravesite.

Smart's body has never been found.

Court documents submitted as part of a bail review hearing in April 2021, when the Flores were arrested, indicated investigators at the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department had biological evidence indicating Smart was once buried under Ruben Flores’ deck behind his home in Arroyo Grande. Prosecutors said there is strong evidence that Ruben Flores helped cover up the crime for nearly a quarter century.

New information was revealed in a court document filed in the Kristin Smart murder case. Video broadcast Wednesday April 21, 2021 on Today in LA.

When Paul Flores first spoke with police, he downplayed his interactions with Smart at the party and on the walk home. He said she walking to her dorm under her own power, though other witnesses said Flores was helping hold her up and she had been passed out earlier in the night.

Witnesses called to testify included Smart’s parents, college friends, forensic analysts, detectives, and acquaintances of Paul Flores. Some provided details about conversations he had with them around the time Smart disappeared.

The son’s defense attorney, Robert Sanger, had tried to pin the killing on someone else — noting that Scott Peterson, who was later convicted at a sensational trial of killing his pregnant wife and the fetus she was carrying — was also a Cal Poly student at the time.

During his closing arguments, Sanger told jurors that no attempted rape occurred and he cast doubt on testimony from witnesses, including a student who was in Smart’s dorm who testified to seeing Flores in Smart’s room.

He also referred to forensic evidence offered by the prosecution as “junk science.”

“This case was not prosecuted for all these years because there’s no evidence,” Sanger said. “It’s sad Kristin Smart disappeared, and she may have gone out on her own, but who knows?”

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