The ex-wife of one of two men accused in a 2006 Pinyon Pines triple murder testified Monday that she had never seen her former spouse exhibit a violent side and that she recalled him being “remorseful” about the death of his 18-year-old ex-girlfriend, who was slain along with her mother and the woman’s boyfriend.
Sara Honiker, a veterinary technician from the Coachella Valley, said she still loved Robert Lars Pape and did not believe he was capable of taking the lives of Becky Friedli, 53-year-old Vicki Friedli and 55-year-old Jon Hayward.
“He doesn’t have it in him,” Honiker said in response to a question from defense attorney Jeff Moore about whether Pape had ever been abusive or violent. “He is my best friend and one of the best people I’ve ever known.”
Honiker testified that she remembered the period after the Friedlis and Hayward were killed, and there was “nothing unusual” in Pape’s demeanor, though he did express “sadness” about the loss of his former girlfriend.
“It was a big thing,” she said. “He was very sad about it. He was remorseful about what had happened.”
When Moore asked Honiker to clarify her understanding of remorseful, she answered, “sorrow, empathy — I’m sorry what happened to you.”
The attorney inquired as to whether Honiker had knowledge of Pape ever trying to hide his rifles and pistols from law enforcement, and she replied, “never.”
Honiker also said that she had never seen anything, in the eight years she and the defendant were married, that could be construed as evidence linking him to the triple murder. The witness and Pape got married at some point after the murders.
Pape and Cristin Conrad Smith, 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 victims were killed on the night of Sept. 17, 2006, and Pape and Smith were first charged in 2014. However, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office shelved the case after grand jury proceedings foundered. The men were freshly charged in 2016, and the present trial got underway a month ago.
Along with Honiker, prosecutors called a California Department of Justice fingerprint expert, Alma Flores, to the stand on Monday. Flores testified that she identified partial latent prints from Cristin Smith on a Pro Life Catholic Ministries business card that sheriff’s investigators say was found several hundred feet behind the Friedli residence the morning after the murders.
Flores did not examine the card itself, only images of it that were sent to her via mail. Two prior analyses by fingerprint experts resulted in no identification of matchable prints, according to trial testimony. However, Smith’s DNA was recovered from the same card, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
A witness who prosecutors had intended to call last week, but was excused from testifying because of his own legal woes, told investigators that Smith remarked to him three weeks after the killings that the defendants had gone to the victims’ house on Alpine Drive, plans went awry, and they had to “torch the whole place.” Jeremy Todd Witt’s preliminary hearing testimony was read aloud to the jury in lieu of his appearance.
Sheriff’s Detective Scott Michaels testified about his encounter with Pape on Sept. 18, 2006, and during the recorded interview, Pape attributed what he knew about the murders to Javier Garcia, Becky Friedli’s confidant.
Pape told Michaels he’d had “no physical contact” with Friedli since their split in January of that year and that she initiated contact with him a week before she was killed, asking that he meet her for an excursion.
When the detective inquired as to what the defendant knew regarding what happened at the residence, Pape answered, “They found three people. 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 about the charred remains in the wheelbarrow, since that information had not been publicly disclosed. Pape pointed to Garcia as the source.
The defendant also told the detective that Friedli had “been kind of obsessed with me” in the eight months after their breakup, sharing old pictures and letters with Garcia.
According to Garcia’s testimony, Pape initiated contact with Friedli less than a week before the killings. The witness testified that Pape wanted to see her again and was interested in going on a night hike near her family’s property.
According to Garcia, 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 with Smith.
An autopsy showed Vicki Friedli and Hayward were shot to death. Becky Friedli’s death was ruled “homicidal violence” because the exact cause could not be determined due to extensive fire damage.
Pape told investigators that he canceled the hike because Friedli had invited unnamed “Marines,” making him uncomfortable.
Both defendants being held without bail at the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside.