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'This case is not over.' DA, sheriff react to Kristin Smart murder trial verdicts

San Luis Obispo Tribune logo San Luis Obispo Tribune 10/19/2022 Kaytlyn Leslie, Chloe Jones, and Stephanie Zappelli, The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.)

Oct. 19—Hours after a jury found Paul Flores guilty of the 1996 murder of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart, San Luis Obispo County officials gathered to share their reactions to the momentous conviction.

District Attorney Dan Dow described the conviction as a step toward justice, coming after months of legal proceedings and capping more than 25 years of investigation.

"Today's guilty verdict provides some sense of justice for Kristin, the Smarts, for our community," Dow said. "Today, justice delayed is not justice denied."

On Tuesday, a jury convicted Paul Flores, 45, of first-degree murder, finding him guilty of a willful, premeditated killing after deliberating for a total of four days. His father, 81-year-old Arroyo Grande resident Ruben Flores, was acquitted of a charge of accessory to murder after the fact.

Paul Flores is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 9 and is facing 25 years to life in prison, according to the District Attorney's Office.

In the press conference following the conviction, Dow thanked the juries, the Smart family, District Attorney's Office investigators and law enforcement personnel for their "tireless commitment to making Smart a priority over the years.

"For more than two decades, the story of Kristin Smart has touched us all," he said. "The story of her enthusiastic spirit, her experience as a college student at Cal Poly, her wonderful family. Her story has filled us with determination. Her family has long been a part of our San Luis Obispo County family, and we will always remember Kristin Smart."

The Smart family also made a statement during the conference, thanking everyone for keeping their daughter's memory alive.

"Most importantly, to our Kristin: Almost three decades ago, our lives were irreparably changed on the night you disappeared," her father Stan Smart said, his voice cracking. "Know that your spirit lives on in each and every one of us every day. Not a single day goes by when you aren't missed, remembered, loved and celebrated."

SLO County sheriff says 'case isn't over' after conviction

During the press conference, SLO County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said it was very important to his office to keep the investigation going over the years — and it required help from the public to keep the case alive.

"We really relied on the public to do that," he said. "It takes a village in order to accomplish this."

But that work isn't done yet, he said.

"You know we talk about justice and closure," Parkinson said. "The reality is there is some form of justice today holding the person responsible. However, that doesn't change the fact that their daughter, at 19, disappeared. And they don't have the opportunity to see her graduate from Cal Poly, be married, have grandchildren for them. So every year that goes by, they continue to suffer for this loss.

"I committed to them before, and I remain committed now even though Paul was ... convicted today: This case is not over. This case will not be over until Kristin is returned," he said.

Dow later in the conference echoed those statements, saying the team in San Luis Obispo County, "will never stop searching" for Smart.

"We're very hopeful that we'll be able to eventually return Kristin to her family so that they could give her a proper burial," he said.

Prosecutor reacts to split verdicts in Kristin Smart trials

Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle, who was the prosecuting attorney in both cases, also spoke during the press conference.

"I really feel like this is a day for us to recognize a community effort," Peuvrelle said. "Just about the entirety of SLO County collaborated to make this thing happen. And this is a prosecution our community can be proud of."

Peuvrelle thanked the more than 50 witnesses called throughout the trial, including the anonymous women who testified to being sexually assaulted by Flores.

"We want to commend the bravery of the Jane Does who testified," he said. "They spoke for Kristin and said what Kristin could not. They are heroes and role models."

Peuvrelle did note that he was "extremely disappointed" by Ruben Flores' acquittal, but noted that he respected the time and effort of the jury in listening to the case.

When asked what he planned to do now that the massive trial is finally coming to a close, Peuvrelle joked he was going to "take a vacation."

"And then probably go to Disneyland," he said to laughs.

What impact did podcast have on Paul Flores' conviction?

A major theme throughout the press conference on Tuesday was the impact the "Your Own Backyard" podcast and its creator, Chris Lambert, had on keeping the case at the forefront of minds in recent years.

During his comments, Dow said Lambert helped bring forward evidence that "was critical in the prosecution of this case."

Parkinson added that Lambert helped to really tell the story of the case to the general public, which in turn helped bring forward new leads.

"It's tough because people kept calling Kristin Smart a cold case," Parkinson said. "Kristin Smart was never a cold case. The cold cases were more the case's done and they put it up on the shelf and you say, 'I have no more leads.' But with Kristin's case, we continue to get small leads, bits of information. Chris helped that process because he brought people into this story, and that helps people feel comfortable. Not everybody's comfortable talking to law enforcement, but they were comfortable talking to Chris, and so Chris would help us with small pieces. He was a piece of the puzzle for all of us."

The Smart family also thanked Lambert for his part in keeping their daughter's case alive and "for the attention during our darkest moments sharing Kristin's voice and story."

"Our family is comforted and strengthened by the knowledge that Kristin continues to be held in the hearts and memories of so many people," Stan Smart said.

(c)2022 The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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