While the 26-year mystery of the disappearance of Kristin Smart concluded Tuesday with the conviction of Paul Flores for her murder, the young woman’s father says it doesn’t make up for his daughter’s absence.
“Without Kristin, there is no joy or victory with this verdict; we all know it did not have to be this way,” Stan Smart said Tuesday after the verdict was read. “We will never be able to hear Kristin’s engaging laughter or revel in her embrace. Her hopes and dreams will never be realized; no form of justice can bring these back.”
A jury of nine women and three men found Flores, 45, guilty of first-degree murder in the death of the 19-year-old Cal Poly student, who went missing more than two decades ago but whose body has never been found. A second jury acquitted Ruben Flores of charges that the 81-year-old helped his son cover up the crime by hiding Smart’s body.
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said that like the Smart family, the verdict does not close the case for his department.
“I committed to them before, and I remain committed that, even though Paul [Flores] was convicted today, this case is not over,” Parkinson said Tuesday during a briefing after the verdicts were rendered. “I remain committed to that fact that we don’t take a breath, we do not put this aside, we continue to pursue this until we bring Kristin home to the family.”
Speaking on behalf of the family during the news conference, Stan Smart said the case had been an “agonizingly long journey with more downs than ups.”
Kristin Smart was 19 when she vanished on May 25, 1996, after walking toward the college dormitories with Flores, a fellow Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student, after a house party.
Others at the Memorial Day weekend party said she was seen with one drink shortly before midnight after hanging out with Flores. Afterward, she passed out on a lawn for two hours, behavior that was consistent with someone drugging her, prosecutors alleged.
When she and two other students began to leave, Flores appeared out of the darkness to help her walk home, witnesses testified. She was never seen again.
“After 26 years, with today’s split verdicts, we learned that our quest for justice for Kristin will continue,” Stan Smart said. “We appreciate and we are beyond grateful for the diligence of both juries, and our faith in the justice system has been renewed by knowing the man who took Kristin’s life will no longer be free to abuse another family or victim.”
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 body under a deck at his father’s Arroyo Grande home. A neighbor reported strange activity with a trailer in Ruben Flores’ yard in 2020, Peuvrelle told jurors. That was when father and son moved Smart’s remains as investigators made new inquiries about the property, he said.
Though Smart’s body was never recovered, prosecutors had another key piece of evidence during the trial. Two women claimed Flores had raped them decades after Smart vanished, supporting the prosecution’s theory that he sexually assaulted the coed, then killed her.
Ruben Flores, however, maintained his and his son’s innocence. Speaking outside the courthouse after the ankle monitor he had worn for 18 months was removed, the elder Flores said he feels bad that Smart’s family will never have a resolution. But he said the case was about feelings, not facts.
“We don’t know what happened to their daughter,” he told reporters Tuesday.
He said he did not get to see his son before he was taken away. Paul Flores faces 25 years to life in prison when he is sentenced on Dec. 9. His attorney, Robert Sanger, declined to comment on the verdict Tuesday.
The case was kept alive thanks in no small part to podcast host Chris Lambert, Stan Smart said. The true crime series “Your Own Backyard” continued to shed light on his daughter’s disappearance. The podcast spawned a cottage industry of investigators that sheriff’s and district attorney’s officials said encouraged witnesses who had not spoken to authorities to come forward.
It “brought not only new information but much-needed light and attention in our darkest hours by sharing Kristin’s voice and story,” Smart said.
He also thanked Peuvrelle, Dist. Atty. Dan Dow and a slew of investigators for “their tireless commitment to making Kristin a priority.”
“The steadfast efforts of this team and so many others ultimately made this day possible,” he said.
Denise Smart quietly wept in the courtroom after hearing the guilty verdict in her daughter’s trial. Later in the day, she thanked “each person who has been the wind beneath our wings to get us through to this day.”
Stan Smart ended Tuesday’s news conference with a message to his daughter.
“Most importantly, to our Kristin: Almost three decades ago, our lives were irreparably changed on the night you disappeared. We hope this verdict helps deliver not just answers but also a peace and sense of closure that have eluded us for 26 years. Know that your spirit lives on in each and every one of us, every day. Not a single day goes by where you aren’t missed, remembered, loved and celebrated.”