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College student Kristin Smart was killed in rape attempt, officials say after breakthrough in cold case

Defendants Paul Flores, top left, and his father, Ruben Flores, bottom, appear via video conference during their arraignment in San Luis Obispo Superior Court in California on April 15. (Nic Coury/AP)
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For almost 25 years after college student Kristin Smart disappeared, little was publicly known about what happened to the 19-year-old after she was last seen that early Saturday morning walking home from an off-campus party.

Tight-lipped investigators shared scant details about the purported evidence they collected from properties connected to Paul Flores, a fellow California Polytechnic State University freshman who had walked Smart to her dormitory. Her body has remained missing, despite massive search efforts spanning decades. But days after Flores was arrested and charged with her killing, the prosecutor pursuing the case has revealed new details about what detectives suspect happened to Smart.

Dan Dow, the San Luis Obispo County, Calif., district attorney, announced Wednesday that he believes there is enough evidence to prove Flores, now 44, either raped Smart or attempted to at the time of her death, and that his father, Ruben Flores, 80, helped him hide her body. The crime scene, Dow said, was Flores’s dorm room, located near Smart’s on the San Luis Obispo campus.

“Today we mark the very first move to bring justice to Kristin Smart, her family and the entire community of San Luis Obispo County,” Dow said at a news conference.

College student Kristin Smart vanished nearly 25 years ago. A classmate was just arrested.

Still, Dow, citing sealed search warrants, declined to share what “very important information” was uncovered in the past month that led the San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s office to charge Paul Flores with murder and Ruben Flores with being an accessory after the fact Tuesday. On Thursday, the same day the father and son appeared in court, a judge signed an order preventing those involved in the case from speaking publicly about it. The Floreses’ attorneys requested and were granted an extension to enter a plea Monday.

Search warrants were executed at Paul Flores’s home in San Pedro, Calif., and Ruben Flores’s home in Arroyo Grande after their arrests. Both men remained in custody Thursday afternoon. Paul Flores was being held without bail, and Ruben Flores was jailed in lieu of $250,000 bail.

The lead prosecutor, Chris Peuvrelle, told reporters Wednesday that he expects to request an increase in Ruben Flores’s bail.

Paul Flores’s attorney, Robert Sanger, previously told The Washington Post that his policy is not to comment on his cases. Harold Mesick, a lawyer for Ruben Flores, declined to comment on the case, citing the gag order.

During the Wednesday news conference, Dow said investigators are continuing to look into other possible sexual crimes that Paul Flores may have committed, asking anyone with information about encounters with Flores since 2005 to come forward. He alleged that there is “evidence in the case that there might be additional victims.” He said those people have not yet been identified.

Dow said that although the statute of limitations to charge Flores with rape had expired, “the allegation that he was committing or attempting to commit a rape when he killed her is the basis" to charge him with first-degree felony murder, which in California could be punishable by death.

Flores was previously convicted of a felony charge of driving under the influence but has faced no charges related to sex crimes, Dow said.

On Tuesday, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson partly credited the progress made in the probe to a podcast, “Your Own Backyard,” saying that new information and a witness were discovered as a result. The developments led law enforcement to track Paul Flores’s calls and texts, which Dow said were “helpful” in the case.

In an episode of the podcast, creator and journalist Chris Lambert interviewed women who knew young Flores and accused him of unsettling behavior. Cheryl Anderson, the friend who last saw Smart and Flores walking to Smart’s dorm, accused Flores of asking her to kiss and hug him that night before walking away with Smart, who was drunk. Anderson said she and other classmates used to call Flores “Chester the Molester.”

In a statement shared after Paul and Ruben Flores were arrested, Smart’s family thanked Lambert, as well as law enforcement and others who had spent years looking into Smart’s disappearance. The family had her declared legally dead in 2002.

The sheriff on Wednesday pledged that no matter the legal outcome, his agency would continue its efforts to find Smart’s body.

“We have not recovered Kristin,” Parkinson said. “We will continue to focus on finding her remains regardless of any court action.”

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