With Kristin Smart's Body Still Missing, Murder Trial Begins

Paul Flores accused of her 1996 murder
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 18, 2022 1:31 PM CDT
With Kristin Smart's Body Still Missing, Murder Trial Begins
This undated photo released by the FBI shows Kristin Smart, the California Polytechnic State University student who disappeared in 1996.   (FBI via AP, File)

The smiling face of Kristin Smart still looks out from a billboard in front of attorney James Murphy Jr.’s law office more than 25 years after the college freshman vanished from a campus on California's picturesque central coast. It once offered a $75,000 reward to help find the college student, but these days the billboard simply says: "Justice For Kristin," reports the AP. Smart is still missing, but Paul Flores, 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, Ruben, who is accused of helping hide her body. What you need to know:

  • The trial. Opening statements are scheduled for Monday in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas. Both Paul Flores and Ruben Flores have pleaded not guilty; their fates will be determined by two separate juries. The trial is expected to last until October, reports the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
  • The allegations. Prosecutors say the younger Flores, now 45, killed the 19-year-old during an attempted rape on May 25, 1996, in his dorm room at Cal Poly, where both were first-year students. His father, now 81, allegedly helped bury the slain student behind his home in the nearby community of Arroyo Grande and later dug up the remains and moved them.
  • The immediate aftermath. Flores downplayed his interactions with Smart when he first spoke with police three days after she was last seen, saying she walked to her dorm under her own power, though other witnesses said that she had passed out earlier in the night and Flores helped hold her up as they walked back to campus. Flores had a black eye when investigators interviewed him. He told them he got it playing basketball with friends, who denied his account, according to court records. He later changed his story to say he bumped his head while working on his car.

  • Smart's missing remains. Investigators turned their attention in the past two years to Ruben Flores' home about 12 miles south of Cal Poly. Behind lattice work beneath the deck of his large house on a dead-end street, archaeologists working for police in March 2021 found a soil disturbance about the size of a casket and the presence of human blood, prosecutors said. The blood was too degraded to extract a DNA sample. While a blood expert said it was human blood, the test used did not rule out the possibility it was from a ferret or ape, though court records said no remains of such an animal were found there.
  • Flores' defense. Attorney Harold Mesick, who represents Ruben Flores, previously said the evidence unearthed was ambiguous. He said that soil under the deck had been dumped there after being excavated to lay a foundation nearby. "It was a hot mess because it’s been previously excavated," Mesick said. "If we even call it evidence, it is so minimal as to shock the conscience."
(More Kristin Smart stories.)

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