(KRON) — Paul Flores was sentenced Friday to 25 years to life in state prison for the 1996 murder of Kristin Smart. Flores, 46, was convicted by a jury last October for murdering Smart in 1996.
Smart was a freshman at Cal Poly when she was reported missing in May 1996. Flores was arrested in 2021 following a 25-year investigation into the case. He was convicted the following year.
“Today, our criminal and victim justice system has finally delivered justice for Kristin Smart, for the Smart family, and for our San Luis Obispo County community,” said San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow. “We thank the Smart family and our community for the tremendous trust and patience they placed in the investigation and prosecution of this terrible crime. We recognize the jury for their focused attention to the evidence and the Sheriff’s Office for their tireless effort in building this case. Today, justice delayed is not justice denied.”
Smart’s remains have never been found, but she was declared legally dead in 2002.
Prosecutors maintained that Flores, now 46, killed Smart during an attempted rape on May 25, 1996, in his dorm room at the university, where both were first-year students. He was the last person seen with Smart as he walked her home from an off-campus party.
Flores was arrested in 2021 along with his father, who was accused of helping to hide Smart’s body.
The trial was held in Salinas, in Monterey County, about 110 miles (177 kilometers) north of San Luis Obispo, after the defense argued that the case’s notoriety prevented Flores and his father from receiving a fair trial in their own county.
A jury found Flores guilty of first-degree murder in October. A separate jury acquitted Ruben Flores, 81, of being an accessory.
At Paul Flores’ trial, defense attorney Robert Sanger tried to pin the killing on someone else. Sanger noted that Scott Peterson, who was later convicted at a sensational trial of murdering his pregnant wife and the fetus she was carrying, was also a student at the campus about 200 miles (320 kilometers) up the coast from Los Angeles.
Sanger filed motions on Feb. 24 in Monterey County Superior Court requesting that charges be dismissed and his client acquitted. One motion also seeks a new trial.
Sanger disputed forensic evidence offered by the prosecution. He contended that Flores’ right to a fair trial was violated because of prosecution errors and “the admission of junk science as evidence.”
“There is a reason that a case against Paul Flores was not brought for 25 years,” the motion said. “There was no evidence of a murder or that Paul Flores committed it.”
The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office asked the court to deny those requests, arguing “claims of misconduct are baseless and the claims of judicial error are incorrect.”
Paul Flores had long been considered a suspect in the killing. He had a black eye when investigators interviewed him. He told them he got it playing basketball with friends, who denied his account. He later changed his story to say he bumped his head while working on his car, according to court records.
Investigators conducted dozens of fruitless searches for Smart’s body over two decades. In the past two years they turned their attention to Ruben Flores’ home in the community of Arroyo Grande, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of California Polytechnic State.
Behind latticework beneath the deck of his large house on a dead end street, archaeologists working for police in March 2021 found a soil disturbance about the size of a casket and the presence of human blood, prosecutors said. The blood was too degraded to extract a DNA sample.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.