SALINAS, Calif. (KRON) — The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff vowed to continue searching for Kristin Smart’s body after her killer was convicted of murdering her at California Polytechnic State University.
A jury found Paul Flores guilty on Tuesday of murdering Smart in his dorm room in 1996. The night of the homicide, Flores and Smart were both 19-year-old Cal Poly freshmen who attended the same off-campus party.
Flores, now 45, has never revealed where he buried Smart’s body.
After the jury’s guilty verdict was announced, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson stood next to Smart’s mother and father at a news conference and said the search for their daughter’s body will continue.
“There is no true justice until Kristin is reunited with her family. This investigation will not be closed until we find Kristin. This case will not be over until Kristin is returned home,” Parkinson said.
Smart was declared legally dead in 2002.
“I made a vow to them many years ago, that we would not let Kristin’s memory be forgotten. Nor would we let her killer go unpunished. I thank them for their patience and support during this most difficult of times. This has been a very long case. A long trial. And a long road to justice. It is my hope that we are able to bring some closure to the Smart family,” Parkinson said.
Prosecutors told the jury that Smart’s body was hidden in a “clandestine grave” in the backyard of Flores’ father’s house in Arroyo Grande, Calif., for two decades. Just before a search warrant was served on the house in 2020, the Flores family moved the body to an unknown location, Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle said.
Flores and his father, Ruben Flores, were arrested shorty after investigators dug up the backyard in 2021 and found a grave that was the same dimensions as Smart, and contained tiny traces of blood.
“A couple grains of bloody sand … that’s all the Smart family has left of their daughter,” Peuvrelle said.
Paul Flores will remain locked in a Monterey County jail until he is sentenced by Judge Jennifer O’Keefe on December 9. He is facing 25 years to life in prison.
Ruben Flores, 81, was allowed to leave the courthouse Tuesday as a free man because he was acquitted by the jury. Even after he was found not guilty of accessory after the fact to murder, Peuvrelle told reporters that he has zero doubt Ruben Flores helped his son hide Smart’s body.
“Ruben tore down missing posters of Kristin showing her smiling beautiful face, called her a ‘dirty slut,’ all while her corpse was decomposing under his deck,” Peuvrelle said.
Sheriff Parkinson said, “I am extremely pleased with the jury’s decision today to convict Paul Flores for the murder of Kristin Smart. I am disappointed, however, for the acquittal of Ruben Flores as an accessory for helping conceal the crime.”
Who knows where Kristin Smart’s body is?
From the trial’s testimony and closing arguments, it’s unclear who knows where Smart’s body is today. Peuvrelle showed the jury photographs shot by Ruben Flores’ neighbor documenting a truck pulling a cargo trailer as it was backed into the backyard in February of 2020. A fence that divided the backyard from the street was removed to allow the truck to back all the way in to where the grave was later found, the prosecutor said.
The truck and cargo trailer were owned by a boyfriend of Susan Flores, the killer’s mother and Ruben Flores’ ex-wife. Investigators later tested the trailer with Bluestar luminol, and one section of the floor “lit up like a Christmas tree,” the prosecutor said.
Luminol will light up with a blue color when blood is present, even trace amounts not visible to the naked eye. It’s used by forensic investigators when blood has been cleaned up prior to investigators gaining access to the area.
The neighbor said Ruben Flores, Susan Flores, and her boyfriend were at the house during the time period that the cargo truck was seen. No one in the Flores family testified during the murder trial. Susan Flores attended the trial and sat in the courtroom gallery for opening statements and closing arguments. She has never been arrested in connection to the Smart case.
Smart had a close relationship with her father, Stan. The summer his daughter went missing from Cal Poly, Stan spent hundreds of hours searching San Luis Obispo. Stan also went to Ruben Flores’ house after Paul Flores was named as a suspect who may know something about what happened.
“(Stan) went to 710 White Court in the City of Arroyo Grande, where Ruben lives to this day. Stan went to that house desperately looking for his daughter. What did Ruben tell him? ‘You better get out of here or somebody might get shot,'” Peuvrelle said.
Following Tuesday’s verdicts, Ruben Flores continued to assert that he has no knowledge of Smart’s whereabouts.
According to San Luis Obispo Tribune reporter Chloe Jones, Ruben Flores told reporters, “All that stuff they say is evidence, you look through it, and there is no evidence against anybody, me or Paul. Too much made up stuff.”
Smart’s mother and father said they miss their daughter every day.
Stan and Denise Smart wrote in a statement, “Without Kristin, there is no joy or victory with this verdict, we all know it did not have to be this way. We will never be able to hear Kristin’s engaging laughter or revel in her embrace. After 26 years, with today’s split verdicts, we learned that our quest for justice for Kristin will continue.”