The case of Kristen Smart, who went missing from a California campus more than 25 years ago, has finally resulted in the conviction of her alleged killer. On Tuesday Paul Flores was found guilty of first-degree murder, according to Associated Press. He could face 25 years to life in prison. A jury in a separate trial found his father, Ruben Flores, not guilty of charges of being an accessory to murder after the fact. The conflicting verdicts were read moments apart in the same courtroom. “Without Kristin, there’s no joy or happiness in this verdict,” Smart’s father, Stan Smart, said after the hearing. “After 26 years, with today’s split verdict, we learned that our quest for justice for Kristin will continue.” Paul Flores had long been considered a suspect in the killing. He had a black eye when investigators interviewed him. He told them he got it playing basketball with friends, who denied his account. He later changed his story to say he bumped his head while working on his car. Stan Smart described the case as a long, agonizing journey.
Smart disappeared from California Polytechnic State University on the state’s central coast over Memorial Day weekend in 1996. Her remains have never been found. The father and son weren’t arrested until 2021. San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said the investigation won’t end until Smart’s remains are found. Prosecutors said the younger Flores, now 45, killed the 19-year-old during an attempted rape in his dorm room at Cal Poly, where both were first-year students. He was the last person seen with Smart as he walked her home from an off-campus party, where she became intoxicated. His father, now 81, was accused of helping bury the slain student behind his home and later digging up the remains and moving them. Ruben Flores maintained that his son is innocent and said he feels badly that Smart’s family will never have a resolution. He said the case was about feelings, not facts. Paul's attorney, Robert Sanger, tried to pin the killing on someone else — noting that Scott Peterson, who was later convicted at a sensational trial of killing his pregnant wife and the fetus she carried — was also a student at the campus. This case was not prosecuted for all these years because there’s no evidence,” Sanger said. “It’s sad Kristin Smart disappeared, and she may have gone out on her own, but who knows?”