SALINAS, Calif. (CN) — A California judge on Friday sentenced Paul Flores, the man convicted of killing Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Kristin Smart over the 1996 Memorial Day weekend, to 25 years to life behind bars.
A Monterey County jury convicted Flores, 45, of Smart's murder this past October, and did so even though Smart's body has never been found.
When the trial over Smart's disappearance began this past July in Monterey County, more than 100 miles from San Luis Obispo, prosecutors said they would prove without a body or substantial physical evidence that Flores is responsible for killing her. His father Ruben Flores was tried by another jury at the same time in a separate trial on charges he helped his son hide Smart’s body but was acquitted.
In a packed courtroom Friday, Monterey County Superior Court Judge Jennifer O’Keefe denied Paul Flores’ requests for a new trial and acquittal before handing down the sentence.
The case has been the subject of intense study and many theories since the night in May 1996 when Smart was last seen leaving a party near her college campus. Detectives accused Paul Flores of lying about details of that night, but never had enough evidence to arrest him.
The case has spanned 26 years, during which time local law enforcement worked with the FBI to try to collect evidence or a confession from Paul Flores using informants and wiretapping. Chris Lambert's podcast “Your Own Backyard” reignited interest and circulated new details that, along with dogged local reporting, contributed to the search of Ruben Flores’ Arroyo Grande home and the arrest of both men in 2021.
The road to trial was also arduous, with a venue change to Monterey County due to publicity surrounding the case, and a process to assemble two juries led to the examination of more than 1,000 potential jurors. District Attorney Dan Dow’s case revolved around the theory that Flores insisted on walking Smart home from a party, in the direction of his dormitory rather than her own, and that he killed her likely during an attempted rape and asked his father to help hide the body.
But Paul and Ruben Flores’ attorneys attacked prosecutors for presenting mostly circumstantial evidence, without a body. Smart was declared legally dead in 2002.
Smart's family members fired back on the stand against the defense team's case, vouching for their daughter's closeness with their family and their anguish at having no closure for more than 25 years.
Due to the nature of the evidence presented including testimony from two anonymous women claiming Paul Flores drugged and raped them, Judge O’Keefe kept a closed courtroom with no cameras. She turned down motions for a mistrial from defense attorney Robert Sanger at least eight times.
Sanger's motion that failed Friday including a request to throw out the guilty verdict, citing prosecutorial errors and “junk science as evidence."
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