A Riverside jury deliberated for another day Wednesday without reaching a verdict in the trial of two men accused of carrying out a triple killing in Pinyon Pines when the pair were teenagers.
Robert Lars Pape, 30, 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 for the deaths of 18-year-old Becky Friedli, her 53-year-old mother, Vicki Friedli, and the latter’s boyfriend, 55-year-old Jon Hayward.
Jurors began deliberating last Wednesday afternoon at the Riverside Hall of Justice. The panel is due back in court Thursday morning to continue its deliberations.
Riverside County Assistant District Attorney John Aki said in his closing statement that the defendants’ own statements, forensic findings and electronic evidence were sufficient to convict Pape and Smith.
“Consider the totality of the entire case,” Aki told the jury. “There are bits and pieces of evidence over here and over there. Look at the evidence in a careful, considerate manner.”
He argued there was no doubt the men were in Pinyon Pines on the night of Sept. 17, 2006, contrary to the defense’s contention that they were wandering around Cathedral City before finally going back to their respective residences.
Aki referred to a Catholic Pro Life Ministries business card found nearly 200 yards behind the victims’ Alpine Drive home, which the defense challenged as tainted evidence and which allegedly contained Smith’s DNA and fingerprints.
“Mr. Smith’s DNA should not have been in Becky’s world,” Aki said. “That card should not have been up there.”
Smith told a detective less than a week after the murders that he had never been to the house, according to trial testimony.
Aki also refuted the argument by Smith’s attorney, John Dolan, that it would have been impossible for the defendants to have gone to the Freidli home, carried out the alleged offenses and returned to the Coachella Valley in the 2.5-hour timeline laid out by investigators.
According to the prosecutor, signals received from the defendants’ phones, bouncing off of area cell towers, showed they were heading in the direction of Pinyon Pines that night. He noted that both men’s phones were “dark together” at the time of the murders.
Aki rejected the defense’s position that Pape came by undisclosed information regarding Becky Friedli’s remains through someone milling around near the crime scene the following day. Pape told a detective that he was aware a young woman had been ” found in a wheelbarrow.” Yet the only witness close enough to Friedli’s burning body an hour after it was set alight thought it was a “mannequin,” Aki reminded jurors.
He stood by the statements of convicted felon Jeremy Todd Witt, whom the defense portrayed as a shady character willing to implicate Pape and Smith in the killings to collect a reward.
Witt was excused from testifying in the trial due to an unresolved misdemeanor case in Indio, and instead his 2016 preliminary hearing testimony was read to jurors. Aki recounted Witt’s encounter with his coworker, Smith, three weeks after the killings, during which the defendant allegedly told Witt, “We were there. It all went wrong, and we torched the place.”
According to testimony, Pape and Smith told investigators that Becky Friedli had reached out to Pape a day before the murders, seeking a meeting. However, Friedli’s close friend, Javier Garcia, told detectives that he was with the victim when she received two unexpected calls from Pape five days before her death — and it was the defendant who arranged for them to go on a night hike near her family’s residence.
Hayward suffered two shotgun blasts to the chest, while Vicki Friedli was fatally wounded with a semiautomatic handgun, according to testimony. An autopsy could not determine how Becky Friedli died because of the extent of thermal damage to her body.
The victims’ two-story residence was destroyed in a gasoline-fed fire.
Dolan told jurors that the prosecution had constructed a convenient “narrative” to make his client appear guilty.