Suspects arrested in murder of long-missing California college student Kristin Smart

An undated handout image of missing college student Kristin Smart. Office of the Attorney General of California/Handout via REUTERS

Police arrested a longtime suspect on Tuesday for the murder of Kristin Smart, a 19-year-old college freshman who went missing from her California university 25 years ago, but said her body had not yet been found.

Smart was last seen walking to her dormitory on the campus of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, 150 miles (240 km) northwest of Los Angeles, in 1996. She was returning from an off-campus party.

Paul Flores, a classmate of Smart and long the main suspect in her disappearance, was taken into custody on Tuesday morning in the Los Angeles suburb of San Pedro and charged with murder, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson told an afternoon news conference.

The suspect’s father, Ruben Flores, 80, was arrested in the San Luis Obispo County town of Arroyo Grande on charges of being an accessory after the fact, Parkinson said.

“We have not recovered Kristin. We will continue to focus on finding her remains,” Parkinson said. Investigators have searched 18 locations for her body.

Paul Flores was jailed on one count of murder and was being held without bail until an initial court appearance later this week. Attorney Sarah Sanger, who is representing him, said her law office did not comment on pending cases.

“There has been no offer of any physical evidence at this point,” Harold Mesick, the attorney representing Ruben Flores, told Reuters in an interview.

“My client is entitled to the presumption of innocence. That means he is absolutely not guilty. As far as the charges go, my client is not guilty in actuality and not guilty under the law.”

Ruben Flores was jailed in lieu of $250,000 bail and was also expected in court later this week.

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s deputies searched Ruben Flores’ home in March with cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar. Parkinson said evidence was seized during that operation that led to the arrests, but he declined to discuss it further.

After Smart was reporting missing, Paul Flores told investigators that he left a campus party with her shortly before 2 a.m. on May 25, 1996, but parted company about a block from her dorm.

Delays in the investigation of the Smart case prompted California lawmakers to pass legislation requiring colleges and universities to share information more quickly about missing students with off-campus police.

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