By Neil Farrell
The man who was perhaps San Luis Obispo’s most infamous murderer has been sentenced to life in prison in the culmination of a case that took over a quarter century to bring to justice.
Paul Flores, 46, was sentenced to 25-years to life in prison for the 1996 murder of Cal Poly freshman, Kristin Smart, who was last seen with Flores leaving an off campus party on Memorial Day Weekend.
The case was unsolved from the time of Smart’s disappearance to until last October, when a jury in Monterey County found Paul Flores guilty of murder. His father Ruben Flores, who is over 80-years old, was acquitted of aiding his son in covering up the murder — an accomplice after the fact — in his trial, which was held concurrently in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas.
That’s where the trial was moved to after the defense successfully got a change of venue, claiming that the case had gotten too much pre-trial publicity — actually over 25 years worth.
The story of Smart’s disappearance, for which Paul Flores was always the prime suspect, was never entirely out of the public spotlight and was a lingering heartache over her family, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and the dozens of law enforcement investigators. It was arguably the biggest unsolved murder in SLO County history.
In recent years, the case took on renewed interest because of a podcast, “In Your Own Backyard,” by freelance journalist, Chris Lambert, that ran from 2016-19 and focused on the case.
The podcast was credited by the County Sheriff for opening up new avenues of investigation, finding new witnesses, and the building of a better circumstantial case against the younger Flores through a number of women who testified they’d been drugged and raped by Flores.
Smart’s body has yet to be found, so the murder case was based on circumstantial evidence.
Lambert’s podcast (see: www.yourownbackyardpodcast.com) played a large part in finally getting both Flores men arrested and facing trial. And while Ruben Flores was found not guilty, his son is going to State Prison, provided that a motion for a new trial made by the defense, is ultimately unsuccessful. The initial motion was denied by the trial judge before sentencing.
SLO County D.A. Dan Dow said after the sentencing, “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. 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.
“We recognize the jury for their focused attention to the evidence and the Sheriff’s Office for their tireless effort in building this case. Today, justice delayed is not justice denied.”
Putting together a successful prosecution was the work of more than a dozen local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies over the span of 25 years, the D.A. said, but most importantly, the perseverance of the Smart Family.
Their strength and determination serve as an inspiration to us all,” said Deputy D.A. Christopher Peuvrelle, who prosecuted the case and has since left SLO County for a position in the Monterey County D.A.’s Office.“After nearly 27 years of unspeakable anguish, the Smart Family has finally seen their daughter’s killer sentenced.
“The prosecution team is grateful for the support of the entire San Luis Obispo community during the case. The community stood together, never gave up, and supported us to see that justice was done. We hope that victims everywhere know that there are people in the justice system who will stand up to make sure their voices are heard.”
Peuvrelle and Assistant Chief Investigator for the SLO County D.A.’s Bureau of Investigation, James “J.T.” Camp were the main prosecution team. Now retired County Sheriff Senior Deputy, Clint Cole, was the lead investigator. The prosecution team included Paralegal Rebecca Cripe, Victim-Witness Assistance Center Assistant Director Beth Raub, Witness Coordinators Eloiza Basinger and Kellie Navarro, Deputy D.A. Crystal Seiler and others.
The D.A.’s Office also thanked Monterey County District Attorney Jeannine Pacioni and her team “for providing physical and technical support throughout the trial, which was held at the Salinas Valley Courthouse in Monterey County.”
But while the drama of the arrest and trial are finally over, the one unanswered question remains — where is Kristin Smart’s body? Which is, unfortunately, a question that may never be answered now that Ruben Flores is free and his son heading to prison.