Paul Flores killed Kristin Smart in his college dorm room as he sexually assaulted the 19-year-old student, prosecutors alleged Wednesday.
The grim details of how Smart is believed to have died while a freshman at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo came on a day when Flores was formally charged with first-degree murder in the case and accusations surfaced that he has assaulted other women in the decades after allegedly killing Smart.
Los Angeles Police Capt. Jonathan Tippet, head of the agency’s Robbery-Homicide Division, said detectives in recent months gathered evidence against Flores in three sexual assaults that allegedly occurred over several years.
Detectives, according to Tippet, presented their findings to the L.A. County district attorney’s office for criminal charges against Flores, although a D.A. spokesman said the office has not conducted a formal review of the cases. The spokesman said prosecutors did review a rape allegation against Flores brought by Redondo Beach police in 2013, but declined to charge him “due to insufficient evidence.”
In announcing the murder charge against Flores, San Luis Obispo County Dist. Atty. Dan Dow acknowledged authorities remain interested in those alleged earlier attacks, saying his office is looking into whether Flores sexually assaulted other women in San Pedro, an area of Los Angeles where he has lived since about 2005.
And Dow claimed his office has evidence that an unspecified number of victims have had “some kind of a criminal act perpetrated on them by Mr. Flores.” Saying Flores was known to frequent bars in the San Pedro area, the district attorney asked that women who may have been assaulted by Flores contact San Luis Obispo authorities.
Flores, 44, was arrested Tuesday at his home, nearly 25 years after Smart left a party near the Cal Poly campus and vanished on the way back to her campus dormitory.
From the start, investigators focused their attention on Flores, a classmate of Smart’s and the last person seen with her. Two students told the police they had left the party with Smart when Flores appeared and promised to see her back to her dormitory.
Over the years, San Luis Obispo authorities called Flores a “person of interest,” then a “suspect,” then a “prime suspect.” They searched his homes. They searched his parents’ homes. They called him before a grand jury, tapped his cell phone and read his text messages. But hamstrung by their inability to find Smart’s body, they stopped short of accusing him of the killing.
Dow said prosecutors decided they could prove Flores’ guilt after investigators discovered more evidence and interviewed new witnesses in the last two years. He declined to provide specifics, saying only that text messages taken from Flores’ phone had been “helpful” and that detectives obtained “very important” information in March. Investigators that month searched a home owned by Flores’ father with cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar.
“We’ve got physical evidence,” Dow said, “we have witness statements, things that, in our view, in their totality, have brought us to the point where we believe we can go forward and prosecute Mr. Flores for the murder of Kristin Smart.”
Dow declined to say how Smart died or why investigators now believe the killing occured in Flores’ dormitory room while he raped or attempted to rape Smart.
Flores’ father, Ruben Flores, 80, was also charged Wednesday as an accessory to Smart’s murder. He is accused of helping his son dispose of Smart’s remains.
Both men have yet to enter a plea and are due to be arraigned Thursday morning in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.
The whereabouts of Smart’s body remain a mystery. On Wednesday, Dow said “we do believe we have the location where the body was buried,” but would not elaborate. Authorities have not found Smart’s remains and are continuing to search for them, Sheriff Ian Parkinson said Tuesday.
Dow said it was “premature to even speculate” whether his office would consider offering Paul Flores some leniency if he would reveal where Smart’s remains are now.
If Smart’s remains are not found, Dow’s prosecutors will face the challenge of proving to a jury that a murder and cover-up occurred without being able to show definitively that Smart was killed. Dow called the task “obviously complicated and difficult” but not impossible, pointing to a recent conviction won by his office in the murder of an elderly woman whose remains were never recovered.
Such no-body prosecutions, Dow said, are “incredibly important for the victim’s family because they want closure.”
Dow was asked at the news conference if any other member of Flores’ family could be charged in Smart’s killing, specifically his mother. His office had insufficient evidence to bring charges against anyone else, he said, but added that the investigation was continuing.
“If it were to lead to other suspects,” he said, “we will follow that evidence when it becomes available.”