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Paul Flores found guilty of murdering Kristin Smart

Kristin Smart went missing in 1996 from her college campus. Today, former Cal Poly student Paul Flores was convicted of her murder

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Paul Flores looks on at the second day of his preliminary hearing.

Paul Flores looks on at the second day of his preliminary hearing, Aug. 3, 2021. On Oct. 18, 2022, Flores was found guilty of Kristin Smart’s 1996 murder.

David Middlecamp, The Tribune (of San Luis Obispo) via Associated Press

On Tuesday a jury in Salinas, California, found Paul Flores, 45, guilty of Kristin Smart’s 1996 murder. After a monthslong trial, jurors reached a unanimous vote, per the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

Despite the case being open for nearly 25 years, Flores had been the primary suspect for years, though he was never taken into custody due to a lack of evidence.

As time passed, Smart’s parents never gave up the search for their daughter and had help from passionate followers of the case, most recently investigative journalist Chris Lambert, whose podcast “Your Own Backyard” helped reinvigorate efforts to find her killer.

In April 2021, Flores and his father, Ruben Flores, were arrested based on new evidence, and their trials have been ongoing for the past three months, according to The New York Times.

Smart’s family released a statement upon the conclusion of the trial, thanking Lambert for bringing new leads and evidence to the case.

Jurors have been released from the gag order and are now allowed to discuss the facts of the case, though Judge Jennifer O’Keefe encouraged them to be “thoughtful” with their words, said the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

What does the verdict mean?

Flores was convicted of first-degree murder, which means he was found to have killed Smart intentionally and that he premeditated her murder to some degree.

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This file photo provided by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office shows suspect Paul Flores, who was arrested Tuesday, April 13, 2021, for the murder of Kristin Smart.

AP

The prosecution alleged that Flores killed Smart while raping or attempting to rape her. According to the San Luis Obispo Tribune, he will be sentenced on Dec. 9.

What happened in 1996?

Smart, a 19-year-old student at California Polytechnic State University, went missing after a party on May 25, 1996. The last person to see her alive was Flores, who claimed that she needed help getting back to her dorm because she was intoxicated.

He also claims, however, that he only walked with her to his dorm, not hers, per The New York Times.

Campus police initially dismissed her friends’ concerns over her whereabouts, saying she likely went home for Memorial Day weekend. Three days later, it was apparent that she didn’t simply go home, and a missing person’s report was filed.

Police questioned Flores and were immediately suspicious. He had a black eye and kept changing his story about how he got it. Investigators searched his dorm room, and despite cadaver dogs indicating an area in which they detected human remains, there was not enough evidence to arrest him, per the Santa Maria Times.

According to the Los Angeles Times, there was speculation that he hid Smart’s body in his father’s backyard and later moved it, but that theory has gone unproved.

Still, her body has never been recovered.

What about Ruben Flores?

It has long been speculated that Paul Flores’ father, Ruben Flores, 81, helped him to conceal her body by burying her behind his home in Arroyo Grande, California.

Ruben Flores talks to his attorney Harold Mesick after a ruling in a San Luis Obispo, Calif., court.

Ruben Flores, right, talks to his attorney Harold Mesick after a ruling in a San Luis Obispo, Calif., court on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. Flores is accused of helping his son Paul cover up the alleged murder of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart.

David Middlecamp, The Tribune (of San Luis Obispo) via Associated Press

He was arrested and charged with aiding Paul Flores in covering up the murder and tried separately. Shortly after his son’s guilty verdict was read to the court, another jury found Ruben Flores not guilty of being an accessory after the fact, per KCRA 3.