San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow on Wednesday said Paul Flores is suspected of raping or attempting to rape and then killing missing Cal Poly student Kristin Smart in 1996.
Dow said at a news conference at the San Luis Obispo Superior Court courthouse Wednesday that his office has filed a murder charge against Flores and, for the first time, alleged that Flores committed a sexual assault in the act.
Paul Flores, who was the last person seen with Smart before her disappearance in 1996, was arrested in San Pedro on Tuesday, and booked into San Luis Obispo County Jail on suspicion of murder.
Flores, 44, is being charged with first-degree murder, which includes the consideration of the sex act.
He is being held without bail ahead of a scheduled arraignment Thursday.
His father, 80-year-old Ruben Flores, was taken into custody in Arroyo Grande on Tuesday and booked into County Jail on suspicion of being an accessory. Ruben Flores’ bail is set at $250,000, and he remained in custody as of Wednesday morning.
Ruben Flores also will be arraigned Thursday.
“We don’t want to jeopardize the fair process going forward,” Dow said. “Significant new information has come in to the Sheriff’s Office that we reviewed over the past two years, and some very important information just a month ago.”
But Dow said investigators, including lead case detective Clint Cole, believe they know the general location of where Smart’s body was taken, but he won’t get into details.
“It’s alleged that Ruben Flores assisted in secreting (Smart’s body) after the homicide,” Dow said. “We do believe we have the location where the body was buried.”
He didn’t say specifically where the alleged crimes occurred, but added, “We certainly believe Mr. Flores’ room was a crime scene.”
District Attorney Comments on Case, Murder Charge During Press Conference
During Wednesday’s news conference, Dow said that “we must never diminish the rights of keeping victims’ rights at the forefront” and that “we owe the Smart family a debt of gratitude” for their patience and strength, saying they willed the moment of prosecution to happen over nearly three decades of perseverance.
“The DA’s Office has carefully reviewed the case and independently determined sufficient evidence exists to proceed with the case,” Dow said.
Dow said he is asking the public for information they may have about Flores committing additional crimes, possibly other “assaults or other acts,” which the District Attorney’s Office believes have occurred.
“Evidence of other sexual crimes may be used,” Dow said. “We intend to use evidence of other sexual crimes to prove the (case).”
Paul Flores was known to frequent bars in San Pedro from 2005 until recently, Dow said. Those with information may call 805.549.7867 or online at slotips.org.
Sheriff Ian Parkinson said that Paul Flores became a suspect in late 2016 after uncovering additional evidence after Flores was considered “a person of significant interest before that.”
In 2017, Parkinson said that Sheriff’s Office investigators talked to witnesses who had not been previously interviewed, learning some new information from the “Your Own Backyard” podcast that Chris Lambert produced.
“That eventually led to interviewing that witness,” Parkinson said. “With the knowledge of new witnesses, sheriff’s detectives secured a court order authorizing the interception and monitoring of Paul Flores’ cell phones and text messages.”
Smart’s body has not yet been recovered.
“No-body homicides are obviously complicated and difficult,“ Dow said. “They’re confident and difficult, but we don’t make a decision to file unless we think we can prove a case.”
Dow was asked whether a local murder prosecution taken place in the past without a corpse as evidence, and how difficult those cases tend to be.
Dow said a similar case involving the murder of a senior citizen by her grandson was successfully prosecuted years ago.
Dorothy Autrey’s grandson killed her in her Cayucos home in 2008, then stuffed her into a suitcase and dumped it over a guardrail north of Ragged Point. Her body has never been found.
Matthew Levine was sentenced in 2009 to at least 25 years in prison for murdering his grandmother.
While difficult, Dow said no body prosecution is possible with sufficient evidence and helps bring closure to the family
Dow said that it’s premature to speculate on any kind of plea deal that could be with Flores that might lead to Smart’s remains.
“We have an ongoing conversation with Mr. Paul Flores’ counsel and we’re welcome to any conversation that they might want to bring to us,” Dow said.
Dow fielded a variety of questions during Wednesday’s new conference, including whether Paul Flores will be charged with rape.
The statute of limitations has expired on a sexual assault charge, but the allegation that was “committing or attempting to commit a rape when he killed her is the basis for filing first-degree felony charges,” Dow said.
At this point, the evidence points to Paul Flores committing a murder and his father, Ruben Flores, acting as an accessory, Dow said.
“We don’t have evidence to charge anyone else at this time,” such as Paul Flores’ mother, Susan Flores, Dow said.
Dow also responded to a question about whether Paul and Ruben Flores’ trials could be moved out of the county into another jurisdiction.
Dow said he believes that San Luis Obispo County would be able to offer a fair jurisdiction to hold the trial locally, added that it’s a decision a judge could have to make a a future ruling.
Asked about how Smart likely died, he said, “I can’t talk about the manner of death.” That information likely will come out at a future court hearing he said.
Another District Attorney’s Office official, deputy district attorney Chris Peuvrelle, responded to a question about the bail amount for Ruben Flores, saying said he believes the office will ask higher bail in the future.
Arrests Come After Decades of Speculation
Parkinson said thanks to that new information, and recent searches of the Flores father and son’s homes, the department was able to recover new forensic physical evidence it believes ties Paul Flores to the murder of Smart.
The Sheriff’s Office also secured a court order for surveillance of Paul Flores’ electronic communications, including cell phone and text message records, Parkinson said.
The arrests came nearly a month after the Sheriff’s Office named Paul Flores — who was the last person seen with Smart before her disappearance — the “prime suspect” in the case and searched his father’s house in Arroyo Grande.
On March 15 and 16, the Sheriff’s Office searched the home of Ruben Flores, confiscating a Volkswagen Cabriolet from the driveway and using cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar under a porch and in a back yard.
Officials have not said what if anything was found during that search.
The search of Ruben Flores’s home took place about a month after Paul Flores was arrested in Los Angeles on suspicion of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
That arrested “originated as a result of information obtained” during the service of several search warrants in 2020, including one at Flores’ home in San Pedro, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Cipolla said then.