Jurors in the case against Paul Flores, for the 1996 murder of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart, were barred from speaking publicly or with each other about the case for over three months. But now they're able to talk.
A group of jurors on the case spoke to the San Luis Obispo Tribune this week but declined to provide their names. They expressed anxiety and pain over the trauma of the case and going through all of the evidence in the three-month trial, and they said they're glad they're now able to be in touch and commiserate over what they went through.
"It’s very traumatizing to go through something like that," says Juror 273, speaking to the Tribune. "Having nightmares, experiencing something, and not be able to tell each other, ‘This is what we’re going through. This is what I’m feeling. This is what I’m thinking. Is this normal?’"
The jury convicted Flores of Smart's murder in October, after four and a half days of deliberations that were spread over two weeks. The conviction came based on circumstantial evidence, scant physical evidence, and witness testimony, despite the fact that Smart's body still has not been found. Ruben Flores, Paul's father, was acquitted of being an accessory after the fact by a separate jury — and one of those jurors later spoke out saying that Paul should not have been convicted based on so little physical evidence.
Juror 273 tells the paper that she was the juror who audibly cried out when they were presented with evidence of stains in the soil behind Ruben Flores's home that could have come from human decomposition, where prosecutors believe Smart's body was buried — before authorities began honing in on the property, when it was likely moved. KSBY reported at the time, in September, that a juror "broke down" in court, leading to the court recessing early for lunch that day.
Juror 273 says this "was the first evidence she saw that made her think Flores could be guilty," per the Tribune, and she had been on the fence about finding Flores guilty throughout the trial.
Jurors tell the paper it was this physical evidence of the likely presence of a body, and testimony by two women who claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Flores in later years after Smart's disappearance, that fully convinced them. Nine of the jurors were reportedly ready to convict when deliberations began on October 4, but three had to be convinced to join them, including Juror 273.
After finishing jury service, and after the verdict was read, another juror, Juror 174, said she began listening to Chris Lambert's podcast In Our Backyard, about the case, and felt validated with the verdict. She also said she was appalled that it had taken so long to arrest and convict Flores, who had been the sole suspect in the case for 26 years.
"I started to actually get mad at the whole justice system,” Juror 174 tells the Tribune, “feeling like we’re better off a defendant than a victim."
Other jurors said they also clamored to listen to the podcast and to read every news article they could find, following the trial. A group of them met with Lambert in person, after reaching out to him, and he took them on a tour of the Cal Poly campus and the walk that Flores and Smart would have taken from an off-campus party back to his dorm in 1996. There is also a small memorial on the campus for Smart, which they took pictures of.
In March, Flores was sentenced to 25 years to life for the murder.