Nearly 27 years since Cal Poly student Kristin Smart went missing after attending a party near campus, former classmate Paul Flores has been sentenced to 25 years to life without parole for her murder. The sentencing came on the heels of Defense Attorney Robert Sanger’s failed attempts to secure a retrial and reverse Flores’ guilty verdict.
During the sentencing hearing for Flores in Monterey County Superior Court, Smart family members and friends gave their victim impact statements.
“Paul chose to take a life, my sister Kristin’s life, a beautiful life,” Matthew Smart told the court, per the San Luis Obispo Tribune. “And now he must pay.”
“This is a parent’s worst nightmare — the disappearance and death of their child,” said Stan Smart, Kristin Smart’s father. “We shared her hopes, her dreams, her aspirations as she became a beautiful young adult, and now she will never be able to have a full life.”
Flores was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Smart in October of 2022, while his father, Ruben Flores, was found not guilty of being an accessory to the crime.
Smart went missing in May 1996 at age 19 after a party near California Polytechnic State University; Flores was the last person to see her that night. The investigation into Smart’s disappearance was initially hampered after campus police refused to take a missing person’s report from a dorm mate. After the student called Smart’s parents, however, authorities began searching for her — albeit a week later. Flores was interviewed by the Cal Poly police investigators at the end of May 1996, but they didn’t search his room until June 10. At that point, his room had been cleaned out. Still, when the room was searched again on June 29, a team of cadaver dogs signaled the smell of human decay. Flores and his parents have long kept quiet about Smart’s disappearance, maintaining his innocence. She was declared dead in 2002 and her body has yet to be found.
Local authorities stayed on the case for decades, though, most recently spurred on by the 2019 launch of the popular true-crime podcast, Your Own Backyard, hosted by local musician Chris Lambert. “True crime podcasting is not something that particularly captivated me,” Lambert previously told Rolling Stone. “But it was a local story and the thing that stood out to me is that nobody was talking about it anymore. I didn’t understand why. How are we not all talking about this every day until she’s found?”
Lambert has been covering the case for years now, culminating in the 2021 arrest of Flores on one count of murder in connection to the case. After Flores’ arrest, Sheriff Ian Parkinson stated that Lambert’s podcast helped move the investigation forward. “What Chris did was take a local story and turn it into an international story. … It did produce some information that I believe was valuable,” he said. Denise Smart, Kristin’s mother, previously told Rolling Stone. “We feel like the stars aligned when the podcast aired. It encouraged the previously reluctant to come forward. … This obviously gave law enforcement new leads to follow and connect with what they already were holding close.”
Previously released documents detailed a March 15th, 2021 search by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office of Ruben Flores’ Arroyo Grande property that included ground-penetrating radar that uncovered a soil disturbance under the deck as well as four soil samples that tested positive for human blood. An April evacuation also tested positive for blood; authorities also uncovered fibers consistent with the color clothing Smart was last seen wearing. No remains have been found.