By BRIAN MELLEY and CHRISTOPHER WEBER Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The father of Kristin Smart, the California Central Coast college student who disappeared from campus 26 years ago, says a murder conviction hasn’t ended the “long agonizing journey” to find the truth about his daughter.
“Without Kristin, there is no joy or happiness in this verdict,” Smart’s father, Stan Smart, said at a news conference after a jury on Tuesday found Paul Flores, the last man seen with Smart, guilty of murder. in first grade.
Prosecutors contended that Flores killed Smart, then 19, while he was trying to rape her in his dorm room at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, where they were freshmen. His attorney argued that prosecutors used an outlandish conspiracy theory and “junk science” to charge him and his father, who was accused of hiding Smart’s body to hide the crime.
Flores, 45, could face 25 years to life in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 9. His attorney, Robert Sanger, declined to comment on the verdict Tuesday.
A day earlier, a separate jury acquitted 81-year-old Ruben Flores, who was accused by prosecutors of burying Smart’s body under the floor of his home in the nearby community of Arroyo Grande for years, but then dug it up and put it away. they transferred
His body has never been found.
Both verdicts were announced Tuesday.
“After 26 years, with today’s divided verdict, we learn that our search for justice for Kristin will continue,” Smart’s father said. “This has been a harrowingly long journey, with more ups and downs than ups.”
However, he also thanked the diligence of both jurors and said his faith in the justice system “has been renewed.”
“Know that her spirit lives in each and every one of us, every day,” she said of her daughter. “Not a single day goes by that she is not missed, remembered, loved and celebrated.”
Smart disappeared from campus over Memorial Day weekend in 1996. The father and son were not arrested until 2021. Their attorneys suggested that someone else killed her or that she might even still be alive, although Smart was declared legally dead. in 2002.
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson told reporters the search for Smart’s remains will continue.
“This case is not over until Kristin comes home, and we’ve been committed to that from the beginning,” he said. “We don’t take a breath. We are not neglecting this.”
Paul Flores was seen with Smart on May 25, 1996. The defense said Flores was seen helping Smart walk to his bedroom after he got drunk at an off-campus party. Prosecutors suggested that she may have been drugged and that Flores took her to her own bedroom where he killed her during an attempted rape.
Paul Flores had long been considered a suspect in the murder. He had a black eye when the 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 that he hit his head while working on his car.
During Paul Flores’ trial, the prosecution also told the jury that four sniffer dogs had flagged the “smell of death on his mattress,” but Sanger called it “junk science” and noted that there was no forensic evidence that Smart had been on the spot. room.
“This case has not been prosecuted for all these years because there is no evidence,” Sanger said during closing arguments. “It’s sad that Kristin Smart is missing, and she may have gone out on her own, but who knows?”
Investigators conducted dozens of fruitless searches for Smart’s body over two decades. For the past two years they have turned their attention to Rubén Flores’ home.
Behind the latticework below the deck of his large home on a cul-de-sac, archaeologists working for police in March 2021 found a coffin-sized soil disturbance and the presence of human blood, prosecutors said. The blood was too degraded to extract a DNA sample.
After Tuesday’s verdict, Rubén Flores maintained that both he and his son are innocent and said he felt bad because Smart’s family will never have a resolution. He said the case was about feelings, not facts.
“We don’t know what happened to your daughter,” he told reporters.
“They’ve had searches and everything,” he said. “They come to my house and say that they buried her here, and that is a surprise to me.”
“He should never have been charged,” said his attorney, Harold Mesick. “It would be nice if the community really honored the presumption of innocence. There is so much animosity towards this man and his family.”
The trial took place in Salinas, 177 kilometers (110 miles) north of San Luis Obispo. A judge agreed to move him after the defense argued the Floreses were unlikely to receive a fair trial with such high profile in the city of about 47,000 people.
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