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Man sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for killing Kristin Smart in California more than 26 years ago

Paul Flores stands during his murder trial in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas, Calif., Monday, July 18, 2022. Flores is accused of the murder of Kristin Smart and opening statements were expected Monday. Smart is still missing, but the man last seen with her at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo in 1996 is on trial more than a year after he was arrested on a murder charge along with his father, who is accused of helping hide her body. (Daniel Dreifuss/Monterey County Weekly via AP, Pool)

Paul Flores stands during his murder trial in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas, Calif., Monday, July 18, 2022. (Daniel Dreifuss/Monterey County Weekly via AP, Pool)

A 45-year-old man convicted of killing Kristin Smart in California more than 26 years ago was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison on Friday.

Monterey County Superior Court Judge Jennifer O’Keefe called Paul Flores a “cancer to society” during his sentencing, and ordered him to register as a sex offender, The Associated Press reported. The judge rejected defense motions to toss out his conviction, acquit him and order a new trial, the AP said.

“Today, our criminal and victim justice system has finally delivered justice for Kristin Smart, for the Smart family, and for our San Luis Obispo County community,” said District Attorney Dan Dow in a statement. “We thank the Smart family and our community for the tremendous trust and patience they placed in the investigation and prosecution of this terrible crime. Today, justice delayed is not justice denied.”

Flores, 45, was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Smart, 19, his schoolmate.

Smart, a California Polytechnic State University freshman, disappeared after a party near campus on May 25, 1996. Testimony at trial established that she was drinking and passed out on a lawn but that Flores emerged to apparently walk her home.

In closing arguments, Deputy District Attorney Chris Peuvrelle told jurors that Flores raped or tried to rape Smart, killed her, and hid the body with the help of his father, Ruben Flores. Authorities maintained that Smart, whose body has never been found, was buried under the deck at Ruben Flores’ home in Arroyo Grande, California, and that the remains were moved in 2020.

“But now you know where she was all along, under their deck,” he said. “They treated her burial with less reverence than a family pet.”

Ruben Flores kept people from that deck for years, he said. A separate panel of jurors acquitted the elder Flores, 81, of being an accessory who helped hide the body.

Prosecutors brought up expert testimony that evidence in soil under the deck was consistent with a body being buried and removed.

Cadaver dogs also singled out Paul Flores’ dorm room out of 120 others for signs of a body. Authorities said that he moved the remains from his room during a four-day period in which he was not seen on campus.

Authorities said two women said Paul Flores raped them in the years after Smart’s disappearance. They testified to being gagged with the same ball gag implemented on a woman in a picture discovered on Paul Flores’ computer.

“Sarah Doe and Rhonda Doe tell us what Kristin could not, that she was raped or that Paul Flores tried to rape her,” Peuvrelle said, describing the women by their in-court pseudonyms.

The prosecutor maintained that Paul Flores “hunted” Smart for months, often appearing where she was, including her dormitory.

Vanessa Shields, Smart’s friend and a fellow freshman at Cal Poly, reportedly said she saw Paul Flores make small talk with Smart at a party three-to-four weeks before the disappearance, KCRA reported. She spotted him “intently staring” at Smart from across the room, describing it as “creepy” and “unsettling.”

Paul Flores also had different stories about a black eye he received at the time, either sustaining it at a basketball game or installing a car radio. However, during trial his attorney Robert Sanger described the state’s case as “conspiracy theories not backed up by facts.”

“He is trying to bootstrap a murder where there is no evidence of murder,” Sanger said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

No DNA evidence connected Paul Flores to any crime, he said. No hard evidence tied him to the murder, he said. He construed this as circumstantial, with no evidence of rape or attempted rape.

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