RIVERSIDE (CNS) - Closing arguments are scheduled today in the trial of two men accused of murdering the 18-year-old ex-girlfriend of one of the defendants, along with her mother and the mother's boyfriend at their Pinyon Pines home more than a decade ago.
Robert Lars Pape and Cristin Conrad Smith, both 29, could each face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and special circumstance allegations of taking multiple lives. The prosecution and defense rested last week after nearly a month of testimony.
Prosecutors focused on forensic and circumstantial evidence allegedly connecting Pape and Smith to the 2006 murders of Becky Friedli, her 53-year-old mother, Vicki Friedli, and the latter's boyfriend, 55-year-old Jon Hayward.
Fingerprint and DNA traces from Smith were found on a business card found several hundred feet behind the victims' residence the morning after it was destroyed in a blaze ignited in an attempt to cover up the killings, Assistant District Attorney John Aki and Deputy District Attorney Brandon Smith allege.
The prosecution reconstructed the defendants' alleged whereabouts on the night of Sept. 17, 2006, relying on mobile phone tower signals picked up from the men's phones. Their stories regarding how Pape and his ex-girlfriend had arranged to meet that night were also examined in detail.
According to trial testimony, Pape and Smith told Riverside County sheriff's investigators that Becky Friedli had reached out to Pape about a week before the murders, seeking a meeting. However, Friedli's close friend, Javier Garcia, told detectives that he was with the victim when she received two unexpected calls from Pape, and it was the defendant who arranged for them to go on a night hike near her family's Alpine Drive residence.
The witness testified that he remembered speaking with Friedli shortly before 7 p.m. on Sept. 17, 2006, and the young woman informed him that she had just received a call from Pape saying he was ``coming up the hill'' with Cristin Smith.
Hayward suffered two shotgun blasts to the chest, while Vicki Friedli was fatally wounded with a semiautomatic handgun, according to testimony. An autopsy could not conclusively determine how Becky Friedli died because of the extent of thermal damage to her body, above the waist.
The victims' two-story residence was largely destroyed in a gasoline- fed fire.
The day after, Pape was interviewed by sheriff's Detective Scott Michaels, who questioned the then-18-year-old as to his whereabouts and what he knew of the killings.
Pape attributed his information to Javier Garcia, telling Michaels he'd had ``no physical contact'' with Friedli since their split in January of that year.
The defendant went on to say, ``They found three people (at the house). Two people were sexless, unrecognizable. One was found in a wheelbarrow -- female, about 20 years old. The whole house caught fire.''
Michaels expressed surprise that Pape knew of the charred remains in the wheelbarrow, since the disposition of Becky Friedli's body had not been publicly disclosed. Pape points to Garcia as the source.
Pape volunteered that Friedli had become ``obsessed'' with him, keeping a cabinet full of pictures and letters from their yearlong relationship that she had shared with Garcia. By that time, the defendant was dating his future wife, Sara Honiker, who testified that he did not ``have it in him'' to commit any type of violence.
Pape told investigators that he didn't have access to firearms, but within eight months of the killings, the defendant snapped pictures with his cell phone of a cache of rifles and pistols that he allegedly owned, according to testimony.
Pape told detectives that he canceled the night hike at the last minute because Friedli had invited some unnamed ``Marines,'' making him uncomfortable.
His attorney, Jeff Moore, established that Friedli had spoken of encounters with a Marine named ``Dane'' in the months prior to her death.
A witness that the prosecution quoted at the opening of the trial for his alleged first-hand knowledge of what happened to the victims did not testify due to potential ramifications involving his own unresolved misdemeanor case pending in Indio. Jeremy Todd Witt's 2016 preliminary hearing testimony was instead read to jurors, including the key quote that he ascribed to a conversation he'd had with Smith three weeks after the killings, in which the defendant allegedly remarked that his and Pape's plans had gone awry, prompting the pair to ``torch the whole place'' on Alpine Drive.
According to testimony, Witt did not come forward with the information for more than five years. Smith's attorney, John Dolan, said Witt was motivated by a $50,000 reward for evidence leading to a conviction.
Witt has a felony conviction for impersonating a peace officer in Kentucky, as well as a misdemeanor conviction for driving under the influence in the Coachella Valley, according to testimony and court papers. He was fired from a Palm Springs water park security job in April 2008 for threatening to kill his boss, according to defense testimony.
Pape and Smith were first charged in 2014. However, the District Attorney's Office shelved the case after grand jury proceedings foundered. The men were freshly charged in 2016.
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