Man convicted of killing California college student Kristin Smart in 1996 sentenced to 25 years to life

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The man convicted of killing Kristin Smart, the California college student who disappeared in 1996 and whose body has never been found, was sentenced Friday to 25 years to life in state prison. 

The sentencing of Paul Flores marks the culmination of a case that has drawn worldwide attention for over a quarter century. Flores, who had long been considered a prime suspect in Smart’s death, was arrested in 2021 and found guilty of first-degree murder last October.

Smart was 19 years old when she vanished while returning to a dorm at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Flores was also a student at the school.

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 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.

Missing College Student-Murder Trial
Paul Flores listens during his murder trial in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas, Calif., Monday, July 18, 2022. 

Daniel Dreifuss / AP


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 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. 

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.”

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 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.

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