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Paul Flores sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for murder of Kristin Smart

Paul Flores was sentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of Kristin Smart, a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, who disappeared on Memorial Day weekend more than 25 years ago and whose body was never found. found.

After hearing from Smart’s loved ones, Monterey County Judge Jennifer O’Keefe sentenced Flores, 46, for Smart’s 1996 murder. Prosecutors believe she raped or attempted to rape Smart at her bedroom before killing her and hiding her body.

O’Keefe delivered the sentence after denying a motion for a new trial by Robert Sanger, Flores’ defense attorney, because the prosecutor had erred during his closing arguments by misstatement of the reasonable doubt standard. He also refused to overturn the guilty verdict, saying the evidence supported the verdict.

Smart was 19 years old when she disappeared on May 25, 1996, when she was last seen walking to the college dorms with Flores after a frat party. Her disappearance triggered a massive manhunt in the area that included helicopters, radar, cadaver dogs, horses and buses full of volunteers.

Although her body was never found, she was declared legally dead in 2002.

From the beginning, investigators focused on Flores. Like Smart, she was 19 years old and in her first year. Classmates described him as clumsy and unpopular; five months before Smart’s disappearance, a student called police and reported that Flores, apparently drunk, had climbed onto her balcony and refused to leave.

In interviews, Flores told investigators that he had walked Smart to his bedroom and then returned to his room. He first explained a black eye by saying he had been elbowed in a basketball game, then admitted he had lied and said he had hit himself while working on a truck at his father’s house.

Without a body, investigators were repeatedly frustrated in their investigation.

Then, in April 2021, Flores was finally arrested at his San Pedro home for Smart’s murder, which investigators say was the result of a combination of physical evidence seized in recent years and previously uninterviewed witness statements. His father, Ruben Flores, 81, was also arrested and charged with helping his son dispose of Smart’s remains.

After a 12-week trial, a Monterey County jury convicted Paul Flores of murder in October. A separate judge cleared his father of being an accessory to the crime.

Smart’s disappearance and the subsequent murder investigation haunted the college town for years and left an indelible mark on San Luis Obispo. The commercials asked for evidence to convict his murderer. His disappearance was also the subject of a true crime podcast.

Due to all the attention, a judge ordered the trial to be moved to Monterey County to ensure a fair legal process.

During the trial, San Luis Obispo County Deputy Dist. Attorney Chris Peuvrelle alleged that Flores raped or attempted to rape, and ultimately killed, Smart before hiding her remains under the deck of her father’s Arroyo Grande home. Then, Peuvrelle said, a neighbor reported strange activity with a trailer in the yard in 2020. The prosecutor argued that father and son moved Smart’s remains while investigators made new inquiries into the property.

Robert Sanger, Paul Flores’ defense attorney, wraps up his case during closing arguments in Flores’ murder trial Oct. 5 in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas.

(Laura Dickinson/San Luis Obispo Tribune)

Peuvrelle portrayed Paul Flores as a predator who, even after becoming the focus of Smart’s investigation, drugged and raped women he lured into his home in the Los Angeles area.

Sanger, Flores’ defense attorney, said jurors had been told “a bunch of conspiracy theories that are not supported by facts.” Prosecutors, he argued, had no forensic evidence, including DNA or blood, connecting Flores to any crime.

Judge Jennifer O'Keefe

Judge Jennifer O’Keefe is presiding over the trial in Monterey County Superior Court.

(Daniel Dreifuss / Monterey County Weekly)

Peuvrelle said during the trial that Flores, a fellow Cal Poly student, had “hunted” Smart for months, pointing to witness testimony that he frequently appeared where she was, including her bedroom.

According to witness testimony, Smart arrived at a party on Crandall Street around 10:30 p.m. Others who were there said that she never smelled alcohol, but that they saw her with a drink shortly before midnight after leaving. with flowers. Then she passed out on a lawn for two hours. Peuvrelle alleged that her behavior was consistent with someone drugging her.

As Smart and two other students started to leave, Flores appeared in the dark to help her walk home, witnesses testified. Smart needed help getting up a hill, and once within sight of the bedrooms, prosecutors say, Flores promised to drive her home. She later insisted that she leave it in full view of her bedroom.

Peuvrelle said the evidence showed that Flores took Smart back to his bedroom. Four cadaver dogs would eventually enter her room because of the “smell of death on her mattress,” the prosecutor told the jury.