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Inmate suspected in prison attack on Kristin Smart's killer previously murdered 'I-5 Strangler'

COALINGA, Calif. (AP) — A California inmate accused of attacking Paul Flores this summer, shortly after Flores reported to prison to serve his conviction for murdering college student Kristin Smart, strangled his serial killer cellmate two years ago, officials said.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation this week identified inmate Jason Budrow as the suspect in the Aug. 23 attack on Flores at the Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, about 185 miles (300 kilometers) north of downtown Los Angeles.

The department declined to share information about how Budrow allegedly was able to get to Flores or whether it is investigating how the attack happened on the agency's watch in light of Budrow's previous behavior while incarcerated.

“CDCR is limited in the amount of information it can provide on incarcerated people’s housing for safety and security reasons,” the agency said in an email.

Budrow is serving life without parole for fatally strangling his girlfriend in 2010 in Riverside County. In a jailhouse interview that year with The Press-Examiner, he described himself as a “Satanist” and sported a “666” tattoo above his right eye. He also was convicted in 2006 of sexually assaulting a teenager.

In 2021, Budrow strangled his new cellmate, serial killer Roger Reece Kibbe, who was known as the I-5 Strangler in the 1970s and 1980s. Kibbe strangled and raped at least seven women — several of them in the Sacramento and Stockton areas along Interstate 5 — and cut his victims’ clothing into odd patterns.

The killing of Kibbe in Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, roughly 30 miles (50 kilometers) southeast of Sacramento, earned Budrow another consecutive life sentence. An autopsy revealed that Budrow, then 40, strangled the 81-year-old Kibbe in their cell.

In a letter to The San Jose Mercury News, Budrow wrote that he killed Kibbe on the day they became cellmates, though he had planned the murder for months after he saw a TV special about him and had sought to share a cell so he could carry it out. Budrow wrote that although he wanted a single cell, he was on “a mission for avenging” Kibbe's victims.

Budrow told the newspaper that he had carved “a crude inverted pentagram" into Kibbe's body.

He was put into the prison's Administrative Segregation Unit — a single-person cell, like he wanted — before being transferred to Pleasant Valley. Budrow was placed in restrictive housing there, which under state law is reserved for prisoners who “may pose a risk to others or to themselves, or whose behavior disrupts the safe and orderly functioning of the facility,” according to the corrections department.

The state would not say whether Flores was also in restricted housing at the time of the attack, which occurred somewhere between the recreational yard and the medical clinic. Authorities also haven't disclosed a possible motive.

Flores was hospitalized in serious condition for two days before he was returned to the prison, state officials said. After the attack, Budrow was found near the scene with some sort of prison-made weapon and surrendered to prison staff, authorities said.

Prison officials have recommended that prosecutors charge Budrow in the attack on Flores. The Fresno County district attorney’s office has not yet been given the case for review, spokesperson Taylor Long said in an email Friday afternoon.

Flores was only transferred to Pleasant Valley the week before the attack to serve his sentence of 25 years to life in prison for killing Smart. His attorney, Harold Mesick, didn't immediately respond to a Friday request for comment.

Smart, then 19, disappeared from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo on the state’s scenic Central Coast over Memorial Day weekend in 1996. Her remains have never been found, but she was declared legally dead in 2002.

Prosecutors say Flores killed Smart during an attempted rape on May 25, 1996, in his dorm room at the university, where they were first-year students. He was the last person seen with Smart as he walked her home from an off-campus party.

Flores was arrested in 2021 along with his father, who was accused of helping to hide Smart’s body. Flores was convicted of first-degree murder last year. A separate jury acquitted his father, Ruben Flores, of being an accessory after the fact.