The man was convicted of murder Christine SmartA California college student who disappeared in 1996 and whose body has never been found was sentenced Friday to 25 years in state prison.

The sentencing of Paul Flores marks the culmination of a case that has attracted worldwide attention for more than a quarter of a century. Flores, long considered the prime suspect in Smart’s death, was arrested in 2021 and found guilty first degree murder last October.

Smart was 19 when she disappeared while returning to her dorm at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Flores also attended the school.

Smart’s remains were never found, but she was legally pronounced dead in 2002.

Prosecutors alleged that Flores, now 46, killed Smart during an attempted rape on May 25, 1996, in his dormitory at the university where both were freshmen. He was the last person seen with Smart when he walked her home from an off-campus party.

Flores was arrested in 2021 along with his father, who was accused of helping hide Smart’s body.

The trial was held in Salinas, Monterey County, about 110 miles north of San Luis Obispo, after the defense argued that the notoriety of the case prevented Flores and his father from getting a fair trial in their own county.

In October, a jury convicted Flores of first-degree murder. A separate jury acquitted 81-year-old Ruben Flores of accessory after the fact.

The trial in the case of the murder of the missing student
Paul Flores listens during his murder trial in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas, Calif., Monday, July 18, 2022.

Daniel Dreyfus/AP

At Paul Flores’ trial, defense attorney Robert Sanger tried to blame the murder on someone else. Sanger noted that Scott Peterson, who was later convicted in a high-profile trial of murdering his pregnant wife and the fetus she was carrying, was also a student at a college campus about 200 miles outside of Los Angeles.

Sanger filed motions Feb. 24 in Monterey County Superior Court to dismiss the charges and acquit his client.

Sanger contested the forensic evidence offered by the prosecution. He argued that Flores’ right to a fair trial was violated by prosecutorial errors and the “admission of unnecessary science into evidence.”

“There is a reason that the case against Paul Flores has not been brought for 25 years,” the petition states. “There was no evidence of a murder or that Paul Flores committed it.”

Paul Flores has long been considered a suspect in the murder. When the investigators questioned him, he had a bruised eye. He told them he got it while playing basketball with friends who denied his account. He later changed his story, saying he hit his head while working on his car, according to court records.

Over two decades, investigators conducted dozens of fruitless searches for Smart’s body. Over the past two years, they have turned their attention to Ruben Flores’ home in the community of Arroyo Grande, about 12 miles south of Cal Polytechnic Institute.

Behind bars, under the deck of his large home on a cul-de-sac, police archaeologists in March 2021 discovered soil the size of a coffin and the presence of human blood, prosecutors said. The blood was too degraded to obtain a DNA sample.

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