A close friend of a young woman killed in her Pinyon Pines home, along with her mother and the latter’s boyfriend, testified Wednesday that he remembered one of the men charged in the triple murder making plans to be there that fateful night, despite the alleged perpetrator’s denials afterward.
Javier Garcia, 30, said he grew up in the Coachella Valley and formed a tight friendship with Becky Friedli in 2006 while she was dating his cousin.
Garcia was among the first people to whom Riverside County sheriff’s detectives spoke hours after the deaths of the 18-year-old woman, her mother, 53-year-old Vicki Friedli, and 55-year-old Jon Hayward on the night of Sept. 17, 2006.
Robert Lars Pape and Cristin Conrad Smith, both 29, are each charged with three counts of first-degree murder and special circumstance allegations of taking multiple lives. Both face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
Garcia testified that he was present during two phone calls that Pape — Becky Friedli’s ex-boyfriend — made to the victim on her mobile phone in the week prior to the murders.
The witness testified that Pape initiated contact after not communicating with Friedli for several months, which came as a surprise to her. According to Garcia, although he could not hear the exact words spoken during the calls, Friedli relayed the content of the conversations, affirming that Pape wanted to see her again and was interested in going on a night hike near her family’s property, situated on Alpine Drive, which traverses a lightly populated desert butte south of Palm Springs.
Friedli conveyed that Pape wanted his best friend, Smith, to join them on the hike and that she was fine with it, the witness said. She initially asked Garcia to join them, but moments later told him, “don’t come,” fearing that his presence would make things “awkward” because she and Pape had not been in a relationship for months, and having Garcia in the mix might create a conflict.
According to the witness, he spoke with Friedli several times that September day, and in their last conversation at 6:40 p.m., she said she’d donned hiking attire and had received a call from Pape, who confirmed he was “on his way up the hill” to her home.
Garcia said he tried calling Friedli again later that evening, but there was no answer. He learned early the following morning that the home had been set aflame and drove there with two friends to find out what transpired.
“I was shocked,” he said. “I wasn’t certain what was happening. My best friend was killed and nobody knew what was going on. It hurt a lot.”
Garcia said he contacted Pape twice by phone on Sept. 18, and the defendant stated that he had canceled the hike because Friedli had wanted to bring along several friends, vaguely identified as “Marines,” making him uncomfortable about the excursion.
Phone logs indicated that the victim and Pape were in touch until 7:30 the night of the killings.
Deputy District Attorney Brandon Smith, who’s prosecuting the case alongside Assistant District Attorney John Aki, has posited no possible motive for the killings, referring only to the yearlong relationship between Becky Friedli and Pape, which ended in a breakup in the winter of 2006.
Last week, Riverside Count’s chief pathologist testified that autopsy results showed Vicki Friedli died from a gunshot to the head and Hayward suffered two fatal shotgun blasts to the chest. Both charred corpses were found in the remnants of the house.
Dr. Mark Fajardo said coroner’s officials could not ascertain an exact cause of death for Becky Friedli because of the severity of thermal damage to her body, which had been left in a burning wheelbarrow near the home. Her death was classified as “homicidal violence.”
According to prosecutors, the wheelbarrow had been rolled to the rear of the residence, where investigators found two different sets of footprints, as well as a business card from Catholic Pro Life Ministries.
Deputy D.A. Smith said the card was eventually processed and checked for DNA trace evidence, and the results of the analysis, produced several years later, showed two of Cristin Smith’s fingers had touched the card, and the probability of anyone other than him being a “major donor” of the DNA was 1 in 28 trillion.
The defendants were interviewed by detectives within two weeks of the murders, and according to the prosecution, the men’s accounts differed regarding where they had been and when that night. When an investigator first questioned Pape about what he knew of the circumstances, the then-18-year-old proceeded to identify crime scene elements — notably the flaming wheelbarrow — not publicly disclosed, investigators said.
The defendants were first charged in 2014, but after grand jury proceedings foundered, the case was shelved. However, after investigators interviewed Pape’s and Smith’s former co-worker — Jeremy Witt — in 2016, the pair were re-arrested and charged.
Witt told detectives that while conversing with Cristin Smith a few weeks after the killings, the defendant admitted being at the scene, and that plans and gone awry, prompting him and Pape to “torch the whole (expletive) place,” Deputy D.A. Smith said.