Man sentenced for killing student who vanished more than 25 years ago

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The man convicted of killing Kristin Smart, who vanished from a California college campus more than 25 years ago, has been sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

Monterey County Superior Court Judge Jennifer O’Keefe rejected defence motions to toss out Paul Flores’ first-degree murder conviction, acquit him and order a new trial.

She said Flores had been “a cancer to society” and in addition to his prison term must register as a sex offender for life.

“You deserve to spend every day you have left behind bars,” Ms O’Keefe said, noting that Flores had “lived free in the community” for more than two decades and for his adult life had engaged in “predatory behaviour” against women.

Chris Lambert, documentary podcaster, sits in front of a poster of Kristin Smart with family members nearby hours after a jury found Paul Flores guilty of the 1996 murder of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart
Chris Lambert, documentary podcaster, sits in front of a poster of Kristin Smart with family members nearby after a jury found Paul Flores guilty of her murder (Laura Dickinson/The Tribune/AP)

Her remains have never been found, but she was declared legally dead in 2002.

Prosecutors maintained that Flores, now 46, killed Miss 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 Miss Smart as he walked her home from an off-campus party.

Paul Flores, left, appears in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas, Calif., with defense attorney Robert Sanger and JT Camp, investigator for the San Luis Obispo District Attorney’s office, Friday, March 10, 2023. Flores, convicted of killing Kristin Smart who vanished from a California college campus more than 25 years earlier, was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison
Paul Flores, left, was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for Miss Smart’s murder in 1996 (Laura Dickinson/The Tribune/AP)

The trial was held in Salinas, in Monterey County, about 110 miles north of San Luis Obispo, after the defence argued that the case’s notoriety prevented Flores and his father from receiving a fair trial in their own county.

At the sentencing on Friday, prosecutor Chris Peuvrelle asked the judge for the maximum sentence, called Flores a “true psychopath” and said he should never be released from prison.

Miss Smart’s father, siblings and other friends and relatives spoke at the hearing about the impact of her death on the family. Her brother, Matthew Smart, asked that Flores spend life in prison.

Stan Smart, father of Kristin Smart, gives a victim impact statement during sentencing for Paul Flores
Stan Smart, father of Kristin Smart, gives a victim impact statement during sentencing for Paul Flores (Laura Dickinson/The Tribune/AP)

San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow said in a statement after the hearing that justice had been finally served.

“After nearly 27 years of unspeakable anguish, the Smart family has finally seen their daughter’s killer sentenced,” the statement said. “Their strength and determination serve as an inspiration to us all.”

A jury found Flores guilty in October. A separate jury acquitted Ruben Flores, 81, of being an accessory.

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.

Paul Flores listens during his murder trial in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas, California, Monday, July 18, 2022.
Paul Flores had long been considered a suspect in the killing of Kristin Smart after she disappeared in 1996 (Daniel Dreifuss/Monterey County Weekly/AP)

Investigators conducted dozens of fruitless searches for Miss 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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