Justice: SLO County community members celebrate the long-awaited guilty verdict in the Kristin Smart case

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San Luis Obispo County resident Trish Norman's hoots of jubilation pierced the afternoon silence on the patio at San Luis Obispo's Libertine Brewing Company on Oct. 18.

"Go Kristin! Go Smart family!" she cheered and clapped.

At 4:30 p.m., Norman was fixated on the bar's small TV that showed Sheriff Ian Parkinson delivering a statement outside the Monterey County courthouse. Three hours earlier, a Salinas jury declared Paul Flores guilty of murdering 19-year-old Cal Poly student Kristin Smart in 1996, bringing closure to 26 years of deliberation over the crime in SLO County.

"I moved here in August of 1996, three months after Kristin had been abducted. So it was very big news then," Norman told New Times. "If you've been here the whole time you cannot help but be moved and impacted. I don't think I've been emotionally connected to a case like this in my whole life."

On May 25, 1996, Stockton-raised Smart went missing after walking to her dorm with college peer Flores after a party. He was reportedly the last person to see her. Smart's disappearance sparked a seemingly never-ending search started by the Smart family and eventually including local law enforcement. Smart was declared legally dead in 2002.

In 2019, Orcutt resident Chris Lambert's Your Own Backyard podcast series uncovered pivotal information previously unseen by the SLO County Sheriff's Office. In April 2021, sheriff's detectives arrested Flores at his San Pedro home as a prime suspect in Smart's murder.

Now 45, Flores is expected to serve 25 years to life in prison for first-degree murder. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Dec. 9. However, Smart's remains are still missing. The 12-week trial also debated whether Flores' father, Ruben, was involved in hiding the body. The SLO County District Attorney's Office alleged that Ruben helped his son bury Smart's body under his deck in Arroyo Grande where it remained for years before being relocated to an unknown location. A second jury assigned to Ruben's case acquitted the 81-year-old of being an accessory to murder.

"Without Kristin, there's no joy or happiness in this verdict. After 26 years with today's split verdicts, we learned our quest for justice for Kristin will continue," Stan Smart, Smart's father, said at a press conference in Salinas following the verdict. "This has been an agonizingly long journey with more downs than ups, but we are grateful and appreciate the diligence and energy of the two juries to thoroughly review the facts and reach their decisions."

Sheriff Parkinson added at the conference that the case "will not be over until Kristin is returned home." He thanked prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Chris Peuvrelle, for leading the case against the Floreses.

GUILTY VERDICT After a jury found Paul Flores guilty on Oct. 18 for the disappearance and murder of Kristin Smart, community members gathered at a Dinosaur Caves memorial to celebrate. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • GUILTY VERDICT After a jury found Paul Flores guilty on Oct. 18 for the disappearance and murder of Kristin Smart, community members gathered at a Dinosaur Caves memorial to celebrate.

"We admired the witnesses who came forward. We called over 50. They testified about the truth. Many endured decades of sadness, of guilt, frustration, yet maintained their resolve to make sure Kristin's voice was heard," Peuvrelle said. "We want to commend the bravery of the Jane Does who testified. They spoke for Kristin and said what Kristin could not. They are heroes and role models for all of us."

In the years after Smart's disappearance, multiple women accused Flores of sexual misconduct. At his trial, two women, referred to in court as Sarah Doe and Rhonda Doe, alleged that Flores sexually assaulted them over a decade ago.

"We removed a predator from the streets," SLO County District Attorney Dan Dow said at the press conference.

Roughly 30 people assembled at Smart's Dinosaur Caves memorial site in Shell Beach around 6 p.m. on Oct. 18. It was one of her favorite places to visit. A pillar bearing her face and birth date on a stone slab was adorned with all things purple, Smart's favorite color—balloons, stuffed animals, painted rocks with messages.

"We call it Kristin's Point," said Pismo Beach resident Tarren Collins.

Collins plays in a band called Fam Jam led by singer Therese Cron. The group belted out renditions of Smart family favorites like "Here Comes the Sun," "Lovely Day," and "Soak Up the Sun" by the bluff overlooking the sunny beach city and its waters.

"It's the first time we're singing it with justice!" Cron said. "The Smarts would stay in Shell Beach and come listen to us. We would plan music events around their visits. It made Denise's [Smart's mother] visits here not as difficult."

Cal Poly student Christa Hudson was part of the crowd in Shell Beach. Hudson is an intern at Safer—the university's survivor advocacy and prevention education group that was created in response to Smart's case. She said she wanted to come out and support the family.

"I was in class when the verdict came. My professor stopped class to take a moment and ended it early," she said. "There's resolution but the sadness is still there."

In Arroyo Grande, the community thronged at Heritage Square Park. Purple ribbons wrapped around trees and streetlight poles. A barbecue was in full swing. Violet balloons decked out the park's gazebo, which held a long strip of poster paper for residents to write messages to the Smart family.

"Arroyo Grande has never forgotten. Our hearts are with you as justice for Kristin is served," read the note scribbled by Mayor Caren Ray Russom.

Children filled the park, too. Local mother Amberly Lahr told New Times that the Smart trial sparked discussions about safety with her kids.

"Consent's a strong word but I used the opportunity to talk to them that someone was out there hurting girls and Kristin," she said. "I've even talked to other people in the community about how difficult it is to talk to kids about it." Δ


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