Editor’s note: Mustang News has covered the People v. Flores murder trial every day from the courthouse. Follow @CPMustangNews on Twitter and Instagram for more updates. Read previous articles about the trial here.
The family of Kristin Smart, reporters and county officials gathered in a Monterey County press room on Tuesday after what Kristin’s father described as an “agonizingly long” wait for justice.
Earlier on Tuesday, Paul Flores was found guilty of murdering Kristin Smart in 1996 when they were Cal Poly freshmen. His father, Ruben Flores was found not guilty after being accused of helping bury Smart’s body in his backyard in Arroyo Grande.
Paul Flores was convicted for willful, deliberate and premeditated murder in the first degree. The verdicts come three months after the start of the trial on July 18.
Kristin Smart’s parents, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Department responded to the verdicts in a press conference on Tuesday.
“To our Kristin, almost three decades ago, our lives were irreparably changed on the night that you disappeared,” Stan Smart, Kristin’s father, said. “Know that your spirit lives in each and every one of us…Not a day goes by that you aren’t missed, loved and celebrated.”
Chris Lambert and his podcast, “Your Own Backyard,” were recognized several times during the press conference for “selfless contributions” to the case.
Stan Smart thanked Lambert for bringing attention to Kristin Smart’s story during the family’s “darkest moments.”
County officials added later in the press conference that Lambert collected “crucial” evidence through his podcast.
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said the podcast ignited an amount of public interest that he doesn’t think has been seen before. He said a lot of puzzle pieces remain missing, but they’ve gotten small bits of information over the years — especially thanks to Lambert.
“Not everyone’s comfortable talking to law enforcement, but they were comfortable talking to Chris,” Parkinson said.
Stan Smart also thanked officials from the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Department for a “tireless commitment to making Kristin a priority.”
“To each person who has been the wind beneath our wings to get us to this day, thank you so much,” Denise Smart, Kristin’s mother, added.
District Attorney Dan Dow discussed the “profound” impact the case has had since 1996.
“More than 26 years since her murder… our criminal and justice system has finally delivered justice for Kristin,” Dow said. “Today’s guilty verdict provides some sense of justice for Kristin.”
When asked what took investigators so long to prosecute Paul and Ruben Flores, Parkinson pointed to “some early mistakes made in the case.”
“It was a matter of collecting enough evidence… that Paul did commit the crime,” Parkinson said. “It took a lot of digging…in order to get to that point.”
Three main county officials were at the forefront of the prosecution: Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle, DA’s investigator James “JT” Camp and San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Detective Clint Cole. Camp and Cole both testified several times during the trial to discuss the investigations, interviews and evidence gathered in the case.
Peuvrelle said he was extremely confident in the case. Still, when it came time for the verdict reading, Peuvrelle said, “my heart was beating out of my chest.”
“I felt an incredible sense of satisfaction, relief,” Peuvrelle said, describing his reaction to the guilty verdict.
Peuvrelle said he was “extremely disappointed” that Ruben Flores was found not guilty, adding that he felt he proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Ruben Flores helped bury Smart’s body in their backyard.
Peuvrelle acknowledged the witnesses and Jane Does — the unnamed women who testified they were raped by Paul Flores — for their courage to come forward.
“[We want] victims everywhere to know there are people who will stand up and never forget,” Peuvrelle said. “To be able to walk into a courtroom and to tell about probably the worst day of your life, it’s an indescribable bravery that I doubt I have.”
Dow expressed confidence that the DA’s office “removed a predator from the streets,” encouraging other victims of sexual violence to come forward and report it.
Paul Flores’ sentencing date is set to Dec. 9. He is facing anywhere from 25 years to life.
“It gives me great satisfaction in the sense that we’ve done something for a family that has gone without their daughter for 26 years,” Parkinson said.
Still, officials emphasized that the county won’t stop searching for Kristin Smart’s body.
“Even though Paul was convicted today, this case is not over,” Parkinson said. “We don’t take a breath, we do not put this aside — we continue to pursue this until we bring Kristin home to the family.”