Kristin Smart case: Paul Flores arrested for murder, his father arrested as accessory

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SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — The “prime suspect” in the 25-year-old disappearance of California college student Kristin Smart was arrested for murder on Tuesday and his father was arrested as an accessory, the San Luis Obispo County sheriff announced.Paul Flores, 44, who was the last person seen with Smart before she vanished in 1996, was taken into custody in the San Pedro neighborhood of Los Angeles. His father, Ruben Flores, 80, was arrested as an accessory at his Arroyo Grande home, where sheriff’s investigators conducted another search.

Defense attorney Robert Sanger confirmed to the Associated Press that Paul Flores was arrested in the Smart case. His father was booked on suspicion of accessory after a felony, according to jail records.San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said Paul Flores was being held on no bail after he was arrested for murder and transported brought back to the county. His father was being held on $ 250,000 bail.

This booking photo of Paul Ruben Flores, the suspect in the murder of Kristin Smart, was released by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office on April 13, 2021.

Parkinson said Smart’s remains have still not been found.

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“We have not recovered Kristin,” the sheriff said at an afternoon news conference. “We’ll continue to focus on finding her remains regardless of any court action. We will continue the process of finding out where Kristin is. We know that’s an important issue to the family.”

The Smart family issued a lengthy, emotional statement following the sheriff’s announcement, reading in part:

“For over twenty-four years, we have waited for this bittersweet day. It is impossible to put into words what this day means for our family; we pray it is the first step to bringing our daughter home. While Kristin’s loving spirit will always live in our hearts, our life without her hugs, laughs and smiles is a heartache that never abates. The knowledge that a father and son, despite our desperate pleas for help, could have withheld this horrible secret for nearly 25 years, denying us the chance to lay our daughter to rest, is an unrelenting and unforgiving pain. We now put our faith in the justice system and move forward, comforted in the knowledge that Kristin has been held in the hearts of so many and that she has not been forgotten.”

Last month the sheriff’s office served a search warrant at a house in Arroyo Grande belonging to Ruben Flores.RELATED: Kristin Smart case: Search warrant served at former classmate’s father’s home in SLO County

Cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar (GPR) were said to be used during their search of the property. The warrant remained sealed, and authorities did not provide further information on the developments in their investigation at the time.

Last year, authorities also served search warrants at several locations in California and Washington.

Parkinson said there has been an extensive investigation into the case over the years.

Since he took office in 2011, he said, the department has served 41 search warrants on the case to investigate 16 different locations, submitted 37 items of physical evidence from the initial investigation for modern DNA testing; and conducted 137 interviews. The data from the investigated, he estimated, would fill more than three terabytes on a hard drive.

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An 8-part podcast called “Your Own Backyard” by musician Chris Lambert in 2019 also helped renew interest in the case and helped prompt more people to come forward with evidence relative to the case, the sheriff acknowledged. The Smart family’s statement also thanked Lambert for his “unselfish dedication” in bringing new light to the case.The sheriff did not disclosed specific evidence that was obtained by investigators that led to the arrest, saying that would be part of the courtroom case.

Smart, who was a 19-year-old from Stockton when she disappeared, was last seen returning to her California Polytechnic State University dormitory from an off-campus party on May 25, 1996. She was last seen walking with Flores, also a 19-year-old freshman at the time.

Paul Flores has remained mum through the years, invoking his Fifth Amendment right to not answer questions before a grand jury and in a deposition for a lawsuit that was brought against him.

He was arrested in February on a weapons charge and released on bond. He has drunken driving convictions on his record in Los Angeles County.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.

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