Pretrial motions began Tuesday ahead of jury selection for the trial of two men accused of killing a Pinyon Pines family in 2006.
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.
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 Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta, was a juvenile at the time and would face life in prison without the possibility of parole if found guilty.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Bernard Schwartz heard from the prosecution and defense regarding proposed witness lists and trial scheduling.
Jury selection is tentatively slated to begin Monday at the Riverside Hall of Justice and is expected to take at least two weeks.
The alleged motive behind the killings may have been Pape’s anger over a romantic fallout with Becky Friedli, 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 possibly was communicating with his former girlfriend to within a few hours of her death.
The defendants told authorities they were in Cathedral City at the time of the shootings.
Sheriff’s Detective Ben Ramirez testified 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 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 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 told him that “You don’t need to be in the military to kill someone.”