A person convicted of murder Christine SmartA California college student who disappeared in 1996 and whose body was never found was sentenced Friday to 25 years to life in state prison.
The sentencing of Paul Flores marks the culmination of a case that has garnered worldwide attention for more than a quarter century. Flores, who had long been considered the prime suspect in Smart’s death, was arrested In 2021 and found guilty of first-degree murder last October.
Smart was 19 when he returned to a dorm at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Flores was also a student at the school.
Smart’s remains were never found, but he was declared legally dead in 2002.
Prosecutors maintained that Flores, now 46, killed Smart during an attempted rape on May 25, 1996, in her dorm room at the university where both were first-year students. She was the last person Smart saw on her way home from an off-campus party.
Flores was arrested in 2021 along with his father, who was accused of helping hide Smart’s body.
The trial was held in Salinas, Monterey County, about 110 miles north of San Luis Obispo, after the defense argued that the notoriety of the case prevented Flores and his father from getting a fair trial in their own county.
A jury convicted Flores in October of first-degree murder. A separate jury acquitted Ruben Flores, 81, as an accessory.
Daniel Dreyfus / AP
At the trial of Paul Flores, defense attorney Robert Sanger tried to kill someone else. Sanger noted that Scott Peterson, who was later convicted in a sensational trial of murdering his pregnant wife and the fetus she was carrying, was also a student at a campus about 200 miles from Los Angeles.
Sanger filed a motion in Monterey County Superior Court on Feb. 24 asking for the charges to be dismissed and his client to be acquitted.
Sanger disputed the forensic evidence provided by the prosecution. He claimed that Flores’ right to a fair trial was violated because of prosecution errors and the “admission of junk science into evidence”.
“There’s a reason why Paul Flores hasn’t been prosecuted for 25 years,” the motion said. “There was no evidence of murder or that Paul Flores did it.”
Paul Flores had long been considered a suspect in the murder. He had a black eye when investigators interviewed him. He told them he was able to play basketball with friends, who denied his account. He later changed his story to say he hit his head while working on his car, according to court records.
Investigators conducted dozens of fruitless searches for Smart’s body over two decades. Over the past two years they have focused on Ruben Flores’ home in the Arroyo Grande community, about 12 miles south of California Polytechnic State.
In March 2021, on a dead-end street under the deck of his large house, archaeologists working for the police found a soil disturbance the size of a casket and the presence of human blood, prosecutors said. The blood was too bad to extract a DNA sample.