Coachella Valley

Trial Begins for Two Men Accused of Family's Decade-Old Murder

Opening statements are scheduled Monday in the trial of two men accused of killing a Pinyon Pines family more than a decade ago.

Robert Lars Pape and Cristin Conrad Smith, both 29, are charged with three counts of first-degree murder and special circumstance allegations of taking multiple lives in the same crime.

The defendants allegedly killed 18-year-old Becky Friedli, her mother, 53-year-old Vicki Friedli, and the latter's boyfriend, 55-year-old Jon Hayward, on the night of Sept. 17, 2006.

A jury was seated on Wednesday, and Riverside County Superior Court Judge Bernard Schwartz scheduled prosecution and defense opening arguments for this morning at the Riverside Hall of Justice.

Pape is being held without bail at the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside, and Smith is being held without bail at the Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta. They're both facing life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.

The alleged motive behind the killings may have been Pape's anger over a romantic fallout with Becky Fiedli, according to testimony from a 2016 preliminary hearing.

Both defendants were originally charged with the murders in 2014, but after problems with grand jury proceedings, the District Attorney's Office temporarily shelved the case. They were charged again in June 2016 after new evidence emerged following an exhaustive 16-month investigation, according to an arrest warrant declaration by sheriff's Investigator Lester Harvey.

Evidence presented during the preliminary hearing included mobile phone records that allowed investigators to reconstruct Pape's and Smith's whereabouts on the night of the killings. The Verizon Wireless cellular "footprint" showed them moving about the Coachella Valley, and a log of numbers from Pape's phone indicated that he was possibly communicating with his former girlfriend a few hours before her death.

The defendants told authorities they were in Cathedral City at the time of the shootings.

Sheriff's Detective Ben Ramirez testified that Becky Friedli's partially burned remains were discovered in a wheelbarrow, about 70 feet north of her family home at 68550 Alpine Drive. An autopsy listed her cause of death as "homicidal violence," but nothing more specific.

Ramirez said Vicki Friedli's charred body was located in the laundry room. She had been shot once in the head. Hayward was found in the kitchen, with a shotgun blast to the chest, according to the prosecution. Harvey's affidavit referenced phone calls between Pape and his girlfriend, Sara Honiker, regarding an unregistered gun and a statement from an anonymous informant indicating Smith's alleged admission to igniting the fire at the victims' home.

Investigators played back recorded jail phone calls, eventually finding two allegedly incriminating conversations between Pape and his girlfriend. According to Harvey, Pape discussed two guns, one of which was a Glock model 22 .40-caliber pistol potentially used in the killings.

In 2011, an anonymous source contacted investigators and alleged that in 2007, he overheard Smith discussing the fire and was admonished by Pape to stop.

Harvey said detectives identified and located the informant in May 2016.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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