LOS ANGELES (AP) — The last person seen with Kristin Smart was convicted on Tuesday of her murder, more than 25 years after she vanished from a California college campus.
According to the San Luis Obispo Tribune, guilty of first-degree murder, jurors unanimously found Paul Flores. In a separate trial, a jury found his father, Ruben Flores, not guilty of being an accessory to murder after allegedly aiding in concealing the crime.
In the same courtroom, the opposing verdicts were read out loud.
Over Memorial Day weekend in 1996, Ms Smart vanished from California Polytechnic State University. Her remains were never discovered.
Prosecutors believe the younger Flores, who is now 45 years old. On May 25, 1996, he murdered the 19-year-old during an attempted rape. At Cal Poly, where they were both first-year students, in his dorm room. He was the last person seen with Ms Smart, walking her home from an off-campus party where she had become inebriated.
Flores’ father, now 81, allegedly assisted in burying The remains of the slain student were discovered behind his home in the nearby Arroyo Grande community and were later dug up and relocated.
Judge Jennifer O’Keefe of Monterey County Superior Court thanked the jurors for their service. The guilty verdict in the murder case was announced.
“I would like to express my appreciation. As well as the parties’ appreciation for your service in this case.” She said. “Being a juror requires a significant personal sacrifice… Throughout this case, you have been extremely attentive and conscientious.”
Robert Sanger, the son’s defence attorney, attempted to blame the killing on someone else. He noted that Scott Peterson was convicted later in a trial of murder. He killed his pregnant wife and the fetus she was carrying. Cal Poly was also a student at the time.
Mr Sanger told jurors during his closing arguments that no attempted rape occurred, and he questioned witness testimony, including that of a student in Ms Smart’s dorm who testified to seeing Paul Flores in Ms Smart’s room.
He also referred to the prosecution’s forensic evidence as “junk science.”
“This case was never prosecuted because there was no evidence,” Mr Sanger explained. “Unfortunately, Kristin Smart went missing; she may have gone out alone, but who knows?”
Paul Flores had long been suspected of the murder. When investigators interviewed him, he had a black eye, according to court records. San told them he was hit while playing basketball with friends, denying his story. He changed the story, claiming he hit his head while working on his car.
However, after the case reopened in 2021, the father and son were arrested.
Over the past two decades, investigators have conducted dozens of fruitless searches for Ms Smart’s body. Still, in the last two years, they have focused on Ruben Flores’ home in Arroyo Grande, about 12 miles south of Cal Poly.
Prosecutors said that archaeologists working for police discovered a soil disturbance behind latticework beneath the deck of his large house on a dead-end street—the size of a casket with human blood in March 2021. The blood was too contaminated to obtain a DNA sample.
After a judge granted the defence’s request to relocate the trial to Salinas, 110 miles north of San Luis Obispo, the defence argued that a fair trial was unlikely because Flores was so well-known in the city of 47,000 people.