Murder of Kristin Smart

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Kristin Smart
Smart in March 1995
Born
Kristin Denise Smart[1]

(1977-02-20)February 20, 1977
DisappearedMay 25, 1996 (aged 19)
San Luis Obispo, California, U.S.
StatusDeclared dead in absentia on May 25, 2002(2002-05-25) (aged 25)
Nationality (legal)American
Height6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)[2][3][4][5]
Parents
  • Stan Smart (father)
  • Denise Smart (mother)

Kristin Denise Smart (February 20, 1977 – disappeared May 25, 1996;[1][6] declared legally dead May 25, 2002) was a 19-year-old American woman murdered by Paul Flores at the end of her first year on the campus of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo).

On Saturday, May 25, 1996, Smart attended a fellow Cal Poly student's off-campus party. At approximately 2 a.m., she was found passed out on a neighbor's lawn, and two students began to help her walk to her dorm room. A third student named Paul Flores joined the group, and due to the proximity of his dorm to Smart's, Flores told the other two students he would get Kristin home safely. Smart was never seen again, and searches conducted since her disappearance have not yet located her, or her remains.

Smart's disappearance resulted in state legislation, including the Kristin Smart Campus Security Act, a bill which requires all public colleges and publicly funded educational institutions in California to have their security services make agreements with local police departments about reporting cases involving or possibly involving violence against students, including missing students. The bill was passed unanimously by the California State Legislature and was signed into law by Governor Pete Wilson.

On April 13, 2021, Flores and his father, Ruben Flores, were arrested and taken into custody on suspicion of Smart's disappearance. Their homes were searched, and investigators found numerous "items of interest" in the son's home. Their trial began in July 2022. On October 18, 2022, Paul Flores was found guilty of the murder of Kristin Smart, and Ruben Flores was acquitted of 'accessory after the fact'. On March 10, 2023, Paul was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. The trial was held in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas, California.[7]

Background[edit]

Kristin Denise Smart was born February 20, 1977, in Augsburg, Bavaria, West Germany, to Stan and Denise Smart, both teachers to children of American military personnel.[2] She had one brother and one sister.[2] When she was a child, Smart moved with her family to Stockton, California. She attended and graduated from Stockton's Lincoln High School in 1995.[2] Before her disappearance, she worked as a lifeguard and camp counselor at Camp Mokuleia in Hawaii.[8]

Disappearance[edit]

Smart enrolled at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo, California, in 1995. On the night of May 25, 1996, which fell on Memorial Day weekend, she attended a birthday party where she did not know anyone at a fraternity house. She walked to and attended the party alone as a friend of hers had decided to return to the dorms earlier that night.[9]

At approximately 2 a.m. on Sunday, May 26, 1996, Smart was found passed out on a neighbor's lawn by two fellow students, Cheryl Anderson and Tim Davis, who both had just left the party.[9][10] They helped Smart to her feet and decided to walk her back to her nearby dormitory. Another student from the party, Paul Flores, joined their group and offered to help the two return Smart to her dorm room.

Davis departed the group first since he lived off-campus and had driven to the party. Anderson was the second to depart the group, heading to Sierra Madre Hall, after Flores, who lived closer to Smart's dorm, assured Anderson that he could walk her there.[11] Flores stated to police that he walked Smart as far as his dormitory, Santa Lucia Hall, and then allowed her to walk back to her Muir Hall dorm by herself.[12] This was the last known sighting of her. Smart did not have any money or credit cards at the time she went missing.[13]

Official investigation[edit]

The University Police Department[14] originally suspected that Smart had gone on an unannounced vacation and as a result were slow in reporting her as a missing person to local law enforcement. She was only reported missing after a week, despite her family calling the police earlier.

Several volunteers searched for Smart. Some of them were on horseback while others used ground-penetrating radar devices.[9]

During the Laci Peterson murder investigation, there were unfounded rumors in the media that Laci's husband Scott Peterson had something to do with Smart's disappearance due to their simultaneous attendance at the Cal Poly campus.[15] There was a brief initial inquiry into whether Peterson was tied to the disappearance, with Peterson denying any involvement, and he was eventually ruled out as a suspect by police.[16]

Although her body was never discovered, an earring that might have belonged to Smart was found by a tenant at the former residence of Paul Flores's mother. This earring was not marked as evidence and has since been lost by the police.[17] Between 1996 and 2007, various searches for her remains and other evidence were conducted, some using cadaver dogs trained to detect the scent of human remains, including searches of properties owned by the Flores family. No useful leads were found for nearly two decades.[18]

On September 6, 2016, officials from the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office announced they were investigating a new lead in the case.[19] Cadaver dogs from the FBI were brought in and investigators were preparing to spend approximately four days excavating an area on the Cal Poly campus.[19] After three days, items were found at all three dig sites located on the same hillside near Smart's dorm. A spokesman for the sheriff's office said, "The items are being analyzed to see whether they are connected to the case, which could take days, weeks, or months".[20] The items uncovered were still being investigated as of 2020.[21]

On April 20, 2021, prosecutors announced ground-penetrating radar and cadaver dogs found biological evidence indicating Smart's body was once buried beneath the deck of Ruben Flores's home, and had been subsequently exhumed and hidden.[22]

Legal proceedings[edit]

Smart was declared legally dead on May 25, 2002, the sixth anniversary of her disappearance.[23] In 2005, her parents, Denise and Stan Smart, filed a civil case of wrongful death against Flores, one of the three students who walked Smart to her dorm. The Smart family was represented by James R. Murphy,[24] on a pro bono basis. The suit was dropped due to lack of evidence after Flores pled the Fifth Amendment. In 2006 or 2007, the Flores family filed a lawsuit against the Smart family for emotional distress, but the lawsuit never resulted in a judgment.[18]

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office regularly reviewed the case, and spent thousands of hours and dollars during the period 2011–2016.[25] The FBI had her on file as a high priority missing person investigation, with a reward of $75,000 for information leading to finding her or resolving her case.[26] Terry Black, a Delta-area man, offered a $100,000 reward for Smart's body.[27]

Publicity[edit]

Beginning on September 30, 2019, the podcaster Chris Lambert released a series of ten podcast episodes.[28] The podcast recounts, in detail, Kristin's probable abduction and subsequent death at the hands of another student on the campus of California Polytechnic State University, 23 years prior. The podcast has been downloaded over twelve million times. Renewed public interest led to a new billboard being put up in Arroyo Grande in January 2020 to replace the original, which had been up since 1997.[29]

On January 18, 2020, the Stockton Record reported that the FBI informed Smart's family that additional news about her disappearance would be coming and that the family "might want to get away for a while" but did not provide any specific information. However, on January 22, 2020, The Record issued a correction: the FBI did not contact the Smart family; rather, a retired FBI agent who had been in contact with the family for years was the source of the advice.[30][31] On January 29, 2020, the San Luis Obispo police department confirmed that two trucks owned by Flores had been taken in as evidence.[32] On February 5, 2020, search warrants were served for "specific items of evidence" at four different locations – two in San Luis Obispo, one in Washington state, and at a home in Los Angeles County.[33] Flores was briefly detained during the search.[34][35][36]

Date rape drug[edit]

On April 22, 2020, the Los Angeles Times reported that a search warrant was served at the home of Paul Flores in San Pedro, California. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department assisted detectives from San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Department in the search.[37] It was reported that numerous "items of interest" were successfully found during the search.[38] Among the items found in the search were date rape drugs and homemade videos showing Flores in acts of sodomizing and raping young women.[39][40]

On February 11, 2021, KSBY reported that Paul Flores had been arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, on suspicion of being a felon in possession of a firearm, which is a felony.[41] On March 15, 2021, a search warrant was issued to search Ruben Flores's home, including the use of cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar. A 1985 Volkswagen Cabriolet was towed from the home of Ruben Flores after cadaver dogs searched the vehicle.[42]

Arrest[edit]

On April 13, 2021, Paul Flores and his father, Ruben Flores, were taken into custody by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Department in relation to the case. Paul Flores was charged with murder; Ruben Flores was charged with being an accessory.[43][44] Investigations later concluded that Paul Flores attempted to rape Smart, although Dan Dow, District Attorney of the County of San Luis Obispo, has stated that the statute of limitations has expired on a sexual assault charge, but murder committed in the course of rape or attempted rape justified first-degree felony murder charges.[45][46] In September 2021 a judge ruled that there was sufficient evidence of guilt for the case to proceed to trial.[47]

The trial was set to begin on April 25, 2022, but was delayed, as a change of venue motion by the defense was granted on March 30, 2022.[48] The case was moved to Monterey County, where it was heard by Judge Jennifer O'Keefe. Pretrial motions were heard on June 6 and 7, 2022, with some ruled upon and other rulings deferred. Over 1,500 jury summonses were sent to County residents. Jury selection began on June 13, and opening arguments began on July 18.[49]

Verdict[edit]

On October 18, 2022, the separate juries that were hearing the case simultaneously at the Monterey County Courthouse found Paul Flores guilty of first-degree murder and father Ruben Flores not guilty of accessory after the fact. Ruben Flores was facing a maximum sentence of three years in jail. One juror on the Ruben Flores case told Judge O'Keefe that he had discussed this case with his priest for "spiritual guidance" as it "was causing him stress". That juror was dismissed and an alternate was sworn in, causing deliberations to begin again. Paul Flores was sentenced to 25 years to life on March 10, 2023.[50][51][52] Paul Flores is currently serving his term at the Pleasant Valley State Prison. On August 23, 2023, Flores was attacked by his cellmate Jason Budrow, who is serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend. Budrow had previously killed another cellmate, Roger Reece Kibbe, in 2021.[53]

Legacy[edit]

Smart's disappearance and slow response by the campus police resulted in the Kristin Smart Campus Security Act being written and sponsored by State Senator Mike Thompson, passed 61–0 by the California State Legislature, and signed into effect by then-Governor Pete Wilson on August 19, 1998. The law took effect on January 1, 1999, and requires all public colleges and publicly funded educational institutions to have their security services make agreements with local police departments about reporting cases involving or possibly involving violence against students, including missing students.

See also[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b "1652DFCA – Kristin Denise Smart". doenetwork.org. Retrieved July 27, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d Mitchell 2003, p. 16.
  3. ^ 20 years after Kristin Smart vanished, authorities unearth 'items of interest' in campus dig
  4. ^ Who was Kristin Smart? The missing Cal Poly student was happy, energetic and always smiling, Visalia Times-Delta
  5. ^ Missing Person: Kristin Denise Smart, FBI
  6. ^ "Kristin Denise Smart – The Charley Project". charleyproject.org. Retrieved July 27, 2018.
  7. ^ "The man convicted of killing Kristin Smart in 1996 is sentenced to 25 years to life". NPR. March 10, 2023. Retrieved April 15, 2023.
  8. ^ "About Kristin". Kristin Smart Scholarship.
  9. ^ a b c "The long, twisted, frustrating road to an arrest in the disappearance of Kristin Smart". Los Angeles Times. April 13, 2021. Archived from the original on April 14, 2021. Retrieved April 14, 2021.
  10. ^ Winton, Richard (September 7, 2016). "Cal Poly student Kristin Smart vanished 20 years ago. Now, authorities are digging the campus for her body". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 7, 2016.
  11. ^ Townsend, Catherine (September 8, 2016). "A New Investigation into The Disappearance of Kristin Smart, Who Vanished From Her College Campus 20 Years Ago – CrimeFeed". CrimeFeed. Retrieved October 8, 2017.
  12. ^ "Where is Kristin Smart? 19 years later, Cal Poly student still missing". Mustang News Staff. Mustang News. May 28, 2015. Retrieved October 8, 2017.
  13. ^ Ellis, Ralph (September 7, 2016). "A break in a cold case on Cal Poly campus". CNN. Retrieved October 8, 2017.
  14. ^ "University Police Department". Cal Poly, Administration & Finance. California Polytechnic State University.
  15. ^ "Search for missing woman fruitless". USA Today. Associated Press. January 18, 2003. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
  16. ^ "No link found to missing student". modbee. Archived from the original on February 21, 2014. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  17. ^ "The Kristin Smart disappearance". CBS. November 27, 2020. Retrieved March 16, 2021.
  18. ^ a b Lambert, Cynthia (September 7, 2016). "Searches for Kristin Smart spanned from Cal Poly to Paul Flores's home". The Tribune. San Luis Obispo. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
  19. ^ a b Scholl, Claire (September 6, 2016). "SLO County Sheriff, FBI Begin Excavation at Cal Poly campus in Search for Missing Kristin Smart". KEYT. Retrieved September 6, 2016.
  20. ^ Morgan Winsor; Roger Lee; Kayna Whitworth (September 9, 2016). "Kristin Smart's Family Is Cautiously Hopeful as Excavation Begins at Cal Poly". ABC News. Retrieved September 11, 2016.
  21. ^ Matt Fountain (March 3, 2017). "Kristin Smart investigation continues 6 months after Cal Poly excavation". The Tribune. Retrieved August 8, 2017.
  22. ^ "Document: Kristin Smart once buried in suspect's backyard". news.yahoo.com. April 20, 2021. Retrieved April 21, 2021.
  23. ^ "Laci Presence Hangs Over Kristin Smart". ABC News. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  24. ^ "Smart v. Flores". James R. Murphy, Jr., A Law Corporation. Retrieved February 25, 2021.
  25. ^ "Sheriff's detectives searching for Kristin Smart's remains at Cal Poly". Paso Robles Daily News. Retrieved September 6, 2016.
  26. ^ Carlton, April (May 31, 2016). "Cal Poly freshman Kristin Smart missing for 20 years". Napa Valley Register. Retrieved October 8, 2016. offers a $75,000 reward for information
  27. ^ Thompson, Ellen (May 24, 2007). "Family hopes for break in Smart case". recordnet.com. Retrieved September 7, 2016. Delta-area resident Terry Black has offered a $100,000 reward in the case, despite not knowing the Smart family personally.
  28. ^ SLO Tribune. "Kristin Smart podcast details missing Cal Poly student's case". SLO Tribune. Retrieved September 25, 2019.
  29. ^ KSBY News (January 6, 2020). "Arroyo Grande business donates new billboard for Kristin Smart". KSBY News. Retrieved January 6, 2020.
  30. ^ Highfill, Bob (January 18, 2020). "Could answers be coming in Kristin Smart's disappearance?". Stockton Record. Retrieved January 22, 2020.
  31. ^ "FBI reportedly tells mom of woman missing since 1996 to "be ready" for unexpected news". cbsnews.com. January 22, 2020.
  32. ^ Leslie, Kaytlyn; Fountain, Matt (January 29, 2020). "Kristin Smart update: SLO sheriff confirms 2 key pieces of evidence in missing person case". The Tribune. San Luis Obispo, California. Archived from the original on January 30, 2020.
  33. ^ Burke, Minyvonne; Blankstein, Andrew; Li, David K. (February 5, 2020). "Search warrants served in 1996 disappearance of California college student Kristin Smart". NBC News. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  34. ^ "Classmate of Kristin Smart Briefly Detained, Police Search Home Decades After Her Disappearance". People. Retrieved February 6, 2020.
  35. ^ "Paul Flores detained in disappearance of Kristin Smart". Cal Coast News. February 5, 2020. Retrieved February 6, 2020.
  36. ^ Levenson, Michael (February 5, 2020). "'Items of Interest' Recovered in Case of Kristin Smart, Missing Since 1996 (Published 2020)". The New York Times.
  37. ^ "Kristin Smart cold case: New warrant served at San Pedro home of former classmate". Los Angeles Times. April 22, 2020.
  38. ^ Paul Vercammen, Stella Chan and Theresa Waldrop (April 22, 2020). "Kristin Smart case: Investigators find 'items of interest' in home search". CNN. Retrieved August 24, 2020.
  39. ^ Fountain, Matt (July 15, 2021). "Kristin Smart records reveal details about drugs, rape videos found at Paul Flores' home". San Luis Obispo Tribune. Retrieved April 15, 2023.
  40. ^ Fountain, Matt (July 15, 2021). "Kristin Smart records reveal details about drugs, rape videos found at Paul Flores' home". The Tribune.
  41. ^ "Paul Flores, person-of-interest in Kristin Smart case, arrested on weapons charge in Southern California". KSBY. February 11, 2021. Retrieved February 11, 2021.
  42. ^ "Sheriff's deputies search Paul Flores's family home in Arroyo Grande with cadaver dogs, ground-penetrating radar". KSBY. March 15, 2021. Retrieved March 15, 2021.
  43. ^ "Live: Paul Flores arrested in connection with Kristin Smart case". KSBY. April 13, 2021. Retrieved April 13, 2021.
  44. ^ Crystal Bonvillian, Cox Media Group National Content Desk (April 13, 2021). "'Prime suspect,' his father charged in 1996 disappearance, murder of student Kristin Smart". WPXI. Retrieved April 14, 2021.
  45. ^ Diaz, Johnny (April 14, 2021). "Kristin Smart Was Killed During Attempted Rape, Prosecutor Says". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 14, 2021.
  46. ^ "Kristin Smart, who disappeared in 1996, may have been raped and killed in a college dorm, prosecutor says". CNN. April 14, 2021.
  47. ^ Velie, Karen (December 30, 2021). "Flores' lawyer files a motion to dismiss Kristin Smart murder charges". CalCoastNews.com. Retrieved January 10, 2022.
  48. ^ "Kristin Smart Murder Trial Likely Delayed While New Venue Sought". gvwire.com. March 31, 2022. Retrieved April 20, 2022.
  49. ^ "Kristin Smart was 'too nice' to her killer, prosecutors say in opening statements". July 18, 2022.
  50. ^ Deliso, Meredith (March 10, 2023). "Paul Flores sentenced to 25 years to life for murder of Kristin Smart". ABC. Retrieved March 10, 2023.
  51. ^ Planas, Antonio. "Verdicts reached in 1996 disappearance and murder of California college student Kristin Smart". nbcnews.com. NBC. Archived from the original on October 18, 2022. Retrieved October 18, 2022.
  52. ^ Caldwell, Travis (March 10, 2023). "Paul Flores sentenced to 25 years to life in prison without parole for 1996 murder of Kristin Smart". CNN. Retrieved March 10, 2023.
  53. ^ "Inmate suspected in prison attack on Kristin Smart's killer previously murdered 'I-5 Strangler'". Associated Press News. October 27, 2023. Retrieved October 29, 2022.

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