After a monthslong trial in a Monterey County courtroom, two separate juries have reached their verdicts in the death of Kristin Smart.
The separate juries in the simultaneous trial have yet to announce their verdicts. The jury in the case against Ruben Flores reached their verdict on Monday, but the judge in the trial opted to wait until both juries reached their verdicts before reading them.
Smart disappeared from the campus of Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo in 1996 after leaving an off-campus party.
The person last believed to see her alive, Paul Flores, was arrested last year and charged with her murder. He was arrested alongside his father, Ruben Flores, who has been charged as an accessory to the murder, accused of helping his son conceal her body for years.
Their arrests marked a major milestone in one of California’s most infamous unsolved cases.
The trial began in mid-July with various delays throughout the process. It was moved to Salinas after a judge granted the defense’s request to move the trial out of San Luis Obispo County. The disappearance of Smart is widely regarded as one of the biggest and most well-known cases in the county’s history.
Paul Flores has long been investigated and discussed as Smart’s possible killer. Prosecutors have alleged that he killed Smart during an attempted rape in his dorm room at Cal Poly.
Despite the murder charge, Smart’s body has never been found. It is rare that a no-body murder goes to trial and experts say they are hard to prove, but other cases in California have led to murder convictions despite the lack of a body.
The prosecution utilized testimony from members of the scientific community, witness statements, previous transgressions by Flores and opportunity as key evidence pointing to his guilt. A month after Smart’s disappearance, cadaver dogs signaled at Flores’ dorm room, which is one of the first dominoes to lead to his identification as the main person of interest in the case.
Peuvrelle had attempted to paint a picture of Paul Flores as a sexual predator who may have other victims. In July 2021, the prosecution had unsuccessfully tried to add two rape charges to the complaint. Flores also has previous convictions for driving under the influence and had a pending gun charge in Los Angeles.
The home of Ruben Flores was treated as a key piece to the puzzle, long theorized as the location of where Smart was buried. Over the years, investigators had searched the property and never recovered her body. But underneath the home’s deck, experts from the scientific community testified that evidence of blood was found in the soil.
That “biological evidence” was the tipping point in the yearslong investigation that led to the arrests of Paul and Ruben Flores.
The defense argued that the lack of physical evidence did not exceed the level of reasonable doubt and without a body, there is no evidence of a rape or a murder.
Robert Sanger, Paul Flores’ attorney, had previously implied in a preliminary hearing that Smart was headed down a dangerous path and either chose to disappear willingly and is still alive, or even was the victim of another killer.
In what is a somewhat unconventional trial, two juries were involved in the deliberations for both defendant. San Luis Obispo County Assistant District Attorney Chris Peuvrelle would make his case against one defendant to one jury and then again to a different jury for the other defendant.
A podcast by Santa Barbara County resident Chris Lambert is often credited with helping drum up renewed interest in the case. San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson has seconded that notion, but has asserted that the case never went cold and investigators worked diligently to make an arrest ever since Smart disappeared on the night of May 25, 1996.
A phone call played during the early days of the trial included a conversation between Paul Flores and his mother, in which she encourages her son to listen to the podcast in order to poke holes in the claims made by Lambert.
The trial included a strict gag order, meaning those involved in the trial were not allowed to discuss it publicly. The judge also banned audio or video recording inside the courtroom during the trial.
Both men had previously pleaded not guilty as part of the case.
Ruben Flores has been out on bail after a judge reduced his bond last year. Paul Flores has been in custody since his arrest, despite arguments from Sanger to have him released.
Check back for details on this developing story.