A jury in California has found a man guilty in the 1996 murder of Kristin Smart.
The jury in the Monterey County, California, Superior Court found 45-year-old Paul Flores guilty of first-degree murder Tuesday afternoon, the Los Angeles Times reported. Flores’ father, Ruben Flores, was found not guilty of being an accessory. The verdict in the 1996 disappearance of Smart, a freshman at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, settles a case that marked the community and garnered nationwide attention after it was the subject of a true-crime podcast.
According to the Times, prosecutors argued to the jury that Flores raped, or attempted to rape, Smart at a college party when they were both freshmen at Cal Poly in 1996. The prosecution contended that Flores “hunted” Smart for months, citing witnesses who testified that he was frequently in the same place she was, including her dormitory.
On the night of her murder, she attended a house party near the college, where she was allegedly drugged and passed out on a lawn for two hours. As she and two other students left the party, Flores approached her to help her get home. Witnesses said he helped her get up a hill, then told the other students he would help her get home. Instead, prosecutors alleged, Flores took Smart to his room where he assaulted and eventually killed her. He then called his father and the two buried the body in the father’s backyard, prosecutors alleged.
Smart’s body has never been found. She was legally declared dead in 2002. But the case received renewed attention when in 2019, a journalist named Chris Lambert created the “Your Own Backyard” podcast, a true-crime series about Smart’s disappearance. The podcast currently sits at #37 on the iTunes podcast charts among all categories, and helped authorities tie up loose ends and explore new avenues of investigation during its initial run.
In 2020, a neighbor reported strange activity at a trailer in the father’s yard. According to prosecutors, that was when the father and son moved the body after investigators made new inquiries about the house. Both father and son were arrested in April 2021, nearly 25 years after Smart’s disappearance, local news outlet KSBY reported.
Ruben Flores, 81, was charged as an accessory to the crime; prosecutors alleged that he helped cover up the crime by burying the body under the deck of the house. But he was found not guilty by a jury separate from Paul Flores’ case. Jurors in the son’s case deliberated for eight days before handing down their verdict.
Paul Flores is scheduled to be sentenced next month. He faces a possible prison sentence of 25 years to life, KSBY reported.