Kristin Smart murder: Why Paul Flores guilty but not his dad

In a courtroom in Salinas, California, a jury on Tuesday returned a verdict in one of California’s most enduring murder mysteries.

The panel found Paul Flores guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Kristin Smart, who went missing more than two decades ago but whose body was never found.

Minutes later, a second jury acquitted his father Ruben Flores of the charge that the 81-year-old had helped his son cover up the crime.

Although both cases were presented in the same courtroom, they were different in many respects, which could explain the different verdicts.

Here is a summary of what the judges learned:

How did prosecutors convict without a body?

Despite multiple searches over the past two decades — including excavations at the Cal Poly campus and at Ruben Flores’ home in Arroyo Grande — Smart’s body has never been found. She was legally pronounced dead in 2002.

But prosecutors had other evidence that the jury found convincing.

During the trial, San Luis Obispo County Deputy Dist. atty Chris Peuvrelle alleged that Paul Flores raped or attempted to rape – and eventually killed – Smart before hiding her remains under a patio at his father’s house. A neighbor reported strange activity involving a trailer in Ruben Flores’ yard in 2020, Peuvrelle told jurors. That’s when the father and son were moving Smart’s remains as investigators made new inquiries into the property, he said.

Although no remains were recovered, the prosectors had another important piece of evidence, something that may have proved crucial in their case. Two women alleged that Paul Flores raped them decades after Smart’s disappearance, supporting prosecutors’ theory that he sexually assaulted the student, then killed her and hid her body.

The jury also heard from two women – Sarah Doe and Rhonda Doe – who testified that Flores drugged and raped them decades after Smart’s disappearance. The women, who took the stand under pseudonyms to protect their privacy last month, testified that Flores sexually assaulted them in Los Angeles in 2008 and 2011 respectively.

In her cases, Peuvrelle found that Flores had offered to drive the women home after meeting, only to allegedly drug and repeatedly rape them at his home.

What do the prosecutors say happened to Smart?

Smart was 19 when she disappeared on May 25, 1996, after walking toward the dormitories after partying with Flores, a fellow Cal Poly student.

According to statements made at the trial, she had arrived at the house party on Crandall Street at around 10.30pm. Others who were there said she never smelled of alcohol but was spotted having a drink just before midnight after hanging out with Flores. After that, she passed out in a meadow for two hours. Peuvrelle claimed her behavior was consistent with someone drugging her.

As she and two other students began to walk, Flores emerged from the darkness to help her walk home, witnesses said. Smart needed help getting up a hill, and once she had the dorms in sight, prosecutors said, Flores promised to take her home. He later insisted that he let her within sight of her dorm.

On the weekend Smart went missing, prosecutors said neither the whereabouts of Paul Flores nor Ruben Flores could be verified, but Paul Flores called his father and they spoke for seven minutes the morning after the event.

Prosecutors claimed the father and son made plans to hide Smart’s body and eventually bury it in Ruben Flores’ garden.

But Ruben Flores denied this.

“They had searches and everything,” he said. “They come to my house and say that this is where she was buried, and that surprises me. They say I dug them up. I’m 81 years old, you know. I don’t dig too much.”

What was the case against Ruben Flores?

The Ruben Flores case, accused of complicity, seemed more difficult to prove.

Prosecutors claimed he kept people off his deck for years.

A ground scientist and archaeologist testified that ground-penetrating radar showed an anomaly and evidence of liquids consistent with a buried and removed body, Peuvrelle repeatedly reminded jurors.

The question of whether Smart was buried in the house and what role Ruben Flores played was debated in court.

Prosecutors pointed to a hole in the property that measured 6 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet. Archaeologist Cindy Arrington, noted Peuvrelle, said that the hole was dug by hand and that the liquid slowly seeped into the ground, forming a bath-like ring.

Showing slides from a PowerPoint presentation, Peuvrelle said a chemical test by an independent laboratory showed a positive result for the presence of human blood in the soil and that fibers extracted from the soil matched the colors of Smart’s clothes.

Harold Mesick, attorney for Ruben Flores, said knowledgeable defense witnesses indicated that the blood test for the floor was invalid. He said there would have been gallons of liquid if there was a body there.

“The amount of blood is so tiny…it could be anyone’s blood. It could be Ruben Flores’ blood,” he said. “I’ll tell you it’s not Kristin Smart’s blood.”

Ultimately, the elder Flores said the case “was about feelings; it wasn’t about facts.”

Speaking outside the courthouse after the ankle monitor he had been wearing for 18 months was removed, Ruben Flores said: “I think that’s what happened to my son. They were carried away by feelings about their family and the missing girl.” Kristin Smart murder: Why Paul Flores guilty but not his dad

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