RIVERSIDE – Two men accused of killing a Pinyon Pines family in 2006 must stand trial for murder, a judge ruled Monday, Oct. 31, following a four-day preliminary hearing.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Bernard Schwartz found there was sufficient evidence to warrant a trial for Robert Lars Pape and Cristin Conrad Smith, both 28. They are charged with three counts of first-degree murder and special circumstance allegation of multiple murders.
Schwartz scheduled a post-preliminary hearing arraignment for Nov. 15 at the Riverside Hall of Justice.
Pape, who’s being held without bail at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside, could face the death penalty if convicted.
Smith, who’s being held without bail at the Southwest Detention Center in Murrieta, was a juvenile at the time and would face life in prison without the possibility of parole if found guilty.
District Attorney’s Office Investigator Ryan Bodmer returned to testify Monday, questioned at length by Smith’s attorney, John Dolan, who pressed the witness with a series of questions on the process by which data was procured and analyzed on his client’s mobile device.
Dolan repeatedly made reference to the 10 years that had elapsed since the killings and when investigators did their 20-hour “drive study” to attempt to replicate the movements of Smith and Pape on that fateful night, using mobile phone tracking information.
Dolan questioned the signal strength of two Verizon Wireless towers that created a “footprint” of the defendants’ locations, wondering whether the dimensions of the towers and the density of cell use in the Coachella Valley could have affected results of forensic analysis on the phones. Bodmer stood by the results.
Last week, Bodmer interpreted cell records for the prosecution, showing that Pape was allegedly in communication with a former girlfriend, 18-year-old Becky Friedli, three days before she was killed, and possibly even within a few hours of her death.
Bodmer also testified there was evidence that Pape’s and Smith’s phones were active and on the move in the cities of Rancho Mirage and Palm Springs on the night of Sept. 17, 2006, when Becky Friedli, her mother, 53-year-old Vicki Friedli and the woman’s boyfriend, 55-year-old Jon Hayward, were killed.
The phone evidence seemingly undercut the defendants’ initial claims that they were nowhere in the vicinity of the victims’ Pinyon Pines property that night.
Pape and Smith were previously charged with the killings, but after problems arose during grand jury proceedings in 2014, the District Attorney’s Office temporarily shelved the case. The defendants were re-arrested last June.
Sheriff’s Detective Ben Ramirez testified last week 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.
“There were two gas cans in the garage,” Ramirez said. “We found match sticks and lighter fluid on the north side of the house.”
Pape and Smith were charged again after new evidence emerged following an exhaustive 16-month investigation, according to an arrest warrant declaration by sheriff’s Investigator Lester Harvey.
The 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.
Pape and Smith told investigators they were in Cathedral City when the trio were killed.
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 registered under Honiker’s name, as well as a handgun that would “never be registered.” Investigators determined that a Glock model 22 .40-caliber pistol was among weapons potentially used in the killings.
In 2011, an anonymous source contacted investigators and alleged that in 2007, he or she overheard Smith discussing the fire and was admonished by Pape to shut up.
Harvey said detectives identified and located the informant in May 2016, and that the person told investigators that Smith, a former U.S. Army ranger, once imparted that “You don’t need to be in the military to kill someone.”