A former classmate of Kristin Smart, the California college freshman whose 1996 disappearance long stood as one of the state’s most sensational unsolved crimes, was found guilty on Tuesday of murdering her, prosecutors said.
The guilty verdict against Paul Flores, who was arrested and charged with Smart’s death in April 2021, almost a quarter-century after she vanished, was returned by a jury in Monterey County Superior Court.
A separate jury found his elderly father, Ruben Flores, not guilty on a charge of helping to hide Smart’s body. Her remains have never been recovered.
The murder verdict was announced on the Facebook page of the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney, Dan Dow.
The trials were moved from San Luis Obispo County in a change of venue requested by defense lawyers because of intense pretrial publicity surrounding the investigation.
Smart, who was 19 when he went missing, was last seen walking to her dormitory on the campus of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, about 150 miles northwest of Los Angeles, on May 25, 1996. She was returning from an off-campus party.
Paul Flores, a fellow student who was long the main suspect in her disappearance, had told investigators he had left the same gathering with Smart but parted company from her about a block from her dorm.
Prosecutors alleged that Flores, now in his 40s, killed her during a rape or attempted rape. Investigators have said they searched 18 locations for her body, to no avail.
Delays in the investigation of the Smart case, which grew into one of California’s highest-profile murder cases in decades, prompted state lawmakers to pass legislation requiring colleges and universities to share information more quickly about missing students with off-campus police.