Verdicts have been reached in the murder trial into the death of Kristin Smart, a California college student who disappeared in 1996, according to court officials. Prosecutors have said she was killed by a classmate who had his father’s help hiding her body.
Paul Flores, 45, and his father, Ruben Flores, 81, had their cases heard simultaneously but were tried by different juries.
The younger Flores was charged with first-degree murder. Ruben Flores was charged with accessory after the fact. Prosecutors have accused the younger Flores of killing the college student and his father of helping dispose her body in his yard before moving it.
Authorities have never found Smart’s body. She was legally declared dead in 2002.
If convicted, Paul Flores faces a sentence of 25 years to life. His father, if convicted, faces a maximum sentence of three years in jail, according to NBC affiliate KSBY of San Luis Obispo.
The verdicts will be read back to back Tuesday afternoon, according to officials from Monterey County Superior Court.
Kristen Smart’s disappearance
- Paul Flores is accused of killing Kristin Smart during an attempted rape May 25, 1996, at California Polytechnic State University, where they were both students.
- Prosecutors say Ruben Flores, Paul Flores’ father, disposed her body in his yard before moving it.
- Authorities have never found Smart’s body. She was legally declared dead in 2002.
- Father and son were long considered suspects but were arrested only in 2021, after the investigation was reactivated.
A juror in the Ruben Flores case was dismissed Thursday after telling Judge Jennifer O’Keefe that he had discussed the case for strictly spiritual guidance with his priest because it was causing him stress, KSBY reported.
The juror said he did not discuss specifics of the case. An alternate juror was sworn in, and O’Keefe told the jury to “begin deliberations anew” to catch the juror up, according to KSBY.
Prosecutors said Paul Flores killed 19-year-old Smart during an attempted rape on May 25, 1996, in his dorm room at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. He was the last person seen with a very intoxicated Smart, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors presented evidence that showed Smart’s body may have been buried under a deck behind Ruben Flores’ home in Arroyo Grande.
He is accused of helping bury the student and digging up the remains and moving them years later, prosecutors said.
Paul Flores had long been considered a suspect in the killing, but prosecutors arrested him and his father only in 2021, after the investigation was reactivated.
San Luis Obispo Sheriff Ian Parkinson acknowledged missteps by detectives over the years and credited a popular podcast about Smart’s disappearance, called “Your own Backyard,” for helping unearth information and inspiring witnesses to speak with authorities.
Investigators have conducted dozens of searches over two decades, but only recently turned their attention to Ruben Flores’ home, about 12 miles south of Cal Poly.
Behind lattice work under the deck of his large house on a dead-end street off Tally Ho Road, 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. While a blood expert said it was human blood, the test used did not rule out the possibility of it being from a ferret or ape, though court records said no remains of such an animal were found there.
Attorney James Murphy has sued Ruben Flores on behalf of Smart’s parents and alleged him and unnamed accomplices moved the body four days after investigators searched his house in February 2020. Investigators didn’t conduct their dig beneath the deck until more than a year later.
San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Craig Van Rooyen ordered the pair to trial after a 22-day preliminary hearing in which he found a “strong suspicion” the father and son committed the crimes they were charged with, and that a grave existed under Ruben Flores’ deck that once held Smart’s remains.
Attorney Harold Mesick, who represents Ruben Flores, previously said the evidence unearthed was ambiguous. He said that soil under the deck had been dumped there after being excavated to lay a foundation nearby.
“It was a hot mess because it’s been previously excavated,” Mesick said. “If we even call it evidence, it is so minimal as to shock the conscience.”
Rooyen in March granted a change of venue request determining the defendants could not get a fair trial in San Luis Obispo County, according t KSBY. The cases were tried in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas.
The prosecution rested its case against the Flores’ men on Sept. 20 — after more than two months of witness testimony, according to The Tribune Newspaper which covers San Luis Obispo County.
KSBY reported attorneys representing the defendants rested their cases on Sept. 27.
Donna Mendell contributed.