STOCKTON, Calif. — The last man seen with Kristin Smart was convicted Tuesday of killing the college freshman, who vanished from a California campus 25 years ago.
A jury has found Paul Flores guilty of murdering Smart in 1996 when they were students at Cal Poly, according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
A jury in a separate trial found his father, Ruben Flores, not guilty of charges of being accessory to murder after the fact for allegedly helping to conceal the crime.
The conflicting verdicts were read moments apart in the same courtroom.
The jury unanimously agreed Tuesday to convict Paul Flores of first-degree murder, capping a San Luis Obispo mystery that has been unsolved for more than 26 years, the Tribune reported.
In 1996, Smart went missing from her dorm at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo toward the end of the school year.
Prosecutors accused one of Smart’s fellow students, Paul Flores, of killing her during a rape or attempted rape in his dorm room.
TRIAL OPENS AFTER 26 YEARS:With no body, case against Kristin Smart murder suspects opens Monday in California
During the trial, which began in June, prosecutors presented evidence that attempted to show his father, Ruben Flores, helped dispose of Smart’s body, which has never been found.
The father and son were arrested in April 2021 and pleaded not guilty.
In closing arguments, Paul Flores’ defense attorney, Robert Sanger, claimed the prosecution had presented no evidence his client assaulted Smart, and that witnesses who testified they had been assaulted by Flores were not relevant or credible, according to reporting by the San Luis Obispo Tribune. Sanger dismissed the prosecution’s forensic evidence as “junk science,” The Tribune reported.
On May 25, 1996, witnesses say, Smart got drunk at a party about a 10-minute walk from her dorm room at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Two fellow students decided to walk her back to her dorm, and Paul Flores offered to join them.
When the other two students left the group, Paul Flores told police he walked with her the rest of the way and never saw her again.
Prosecutors charged Flores with murder, which they say he committed while raping or trying to rape Kristin in his dorm room.
Authorities had accused his father, now 81, of allegedly helping to bury the slain student behind his home in the nearby community of Arroyo Grande. They said he later dug up the remains and moved them.
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, according to court records. He later changed his story to say he bumped his head while working on his car.
However, the father and son were only arrested in 2021 after the case was revived.
Investigators conducted dozens of fruitless searches for Smart’s body over two decades but in the past two years they turned their attention to Ruben Flores’ home about 12 miles south of Cal Poly in the community of Arroyo Grande.
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.
Four women have told police that Flores drugged and raped them, Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle said in court last year. Flores hasn’t been charged with a crime stemming from those allegations.
Paul and Ruben Flores’ arrest came after a hit podcast, “Your Own Backyard,” renewed attention on the case and generated new leads and witnesses for police.
Contributing: Amanda Lee Myers, USA TODAY; The Associated Press