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Prosecutors say Kristin Smart was killed during rape or attempted rape

FILE PHOTO: An undated handout image of missing college student Kristin Smart

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Prosecutors on Wednesday charged a former classmate with the murder of Kristin Smart, a California college freshman who went missing nearly 25 years ago, alleging for the first time that the suspect killed her during a rape or attempted rape.

Paul Flores, who attended California Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo with Smart, 19, was charged with a single count of first-degree murder. He is now 44.

The suspect’s 80-year-old father, Ruben Flores, was charged with being an accessory after the fact and accused of helping his son hide Smart’s body. Her remains have never been found.

“These charges mark a major milestone,” San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow said in a written statement. “Today, we make the first move toward bringing justice to Kristin, her family, and the people of San Luis Obispo County.”

The charges mark the first time that prosecutors have disclosed their theory of a motive in the long-unsolved crime.

Attorneys for Flores, the last known person to see Smart alive and labeled by police a “person of interest” in the case during the quarter-century it has been under investigation, have said they do not comment on pending cases.

An attorney for Ruben Flores told Reuters on Tuesday that his client was not guilty and was entitled to a presumption of innocence.

In announcing the charges against Paul Flores, who was arrested on Tuesday at his home in the Los Angeles suburb of San Pedro, prosecutors asked the public to provide information about other crimes they say he may have committed, including assault.

“Flores was known to frequent bars in the San Pedro area from 2005 to present,” Dow said.

Smart was last seen walking to her dormitory shortly before 2 a.m. on May 25, 1996. She was returning from an off-campus party. Paul Flores told investigators that he left the party with her but that they parted company about a block from her dorm.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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