More than a quarter-century after college freshman Kristin Smart vanished in what became one of California's most notorious unsolved crimes, the man ultimately convicted of killing her was sentenced on Friday to serve 25 years to life in prison.
The prison term imposed on Smart's one-time classmate, Paul Flores, the maximum sentence under California's current penal system, was announced by the San Luis Obispo County district attorney in a statement.
"Today, our criminal and victim justice system has finally delivered justice for Kristin Smart," District Attorney Dan Dow wrote.
Flores, 46, was found guilty by a 12-member jury in Monterey County Superior Court in October 2022 at the end of a three-month trial. He was arrested and charged with Smart's death in April 2021.
A separate jury acquitted the defendant's father, Ruben Flores, who was accused of helping to hide Smart's body, of being an accessory to murder after the fact.
Smart was 19 when she went missing on May 25, 1996, from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, about 150 miles (240 km) northwest of Los Angeles. She had last been seen returning to her dormitory from an off-campus party at about 2 am.
Prosecutors accused Flores of killing her during a rape or attempted rape. Smart's remains have never been found, although investigators said they have searched 18 locations for her body.
For many years the leading suspect in Smart's disappearance, Flores had told investigators he left the same gathering with Smart but parted company with her about a block from her dorm.
New evidence and witnesses uncovered by freelance journalist Chris Lambert's 2019 documentary podcast, "Your Own Backyard," helped investigators crack the case, according to prosecutors and Sheriff Ian Parkinson.
In response to delays in the investigation of the case, state lawmakers passed legislation requiring colleges and universities to share information more quickly about missing students with off-campus police.
After Flores' October conviction, Sheriff Parkinson vowed that the case would remain open until Smart's remains are found and returned to her family.
Before pronouncing sentence, Judge Jennifer O'Keefe said Flores had continued to drug and assault women in "predatory behaviour" that "has spanned your adult life," according to an account of the proceedings published by the San Luis Obispo Tribune newspaper.
"You deserve to spend every day you have left behind bars," she was quoted as saying.
Addressing the court for the prosecution, Deputy District Attorney Chris Peuvrelle called the defendant a "true psychopath," adding that while Flores maintains his innocence, "we know he lies," the Tribune reported.
Defence lawyer Robert Sanger, whose motion for a new trial was denied at the start of the hearing, declined to give a final statement on behalf of his client before sentencing, according to the Tribune.
"This is a parent's worst nightmare - the disappearance and death of their child," the slain student's father, Stan Smart said during the hearing.