One of two men on trial for a Pinyon Pines triple murder told a homicide investigator soon after the killings that he believed one of the victims, his ex-girlfriend, had been “obsessed” with him and contemplated suicide after he broke up with her, according to evidence presented Tuesday by the prosecution.
Riverside County sheriff’s Detective Scott Michaels was the first investigator to speak with Robert Lars Pape following the deaths of 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 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.
Michaels interviewed Pape on Sept. 18, 2006, and a tape of that meeting was played for jurors.
During questioning, Pape attributed what he knew about the murders to Javier Garcia, an acquaintance and Becky Friedli’s “best friend.” Garcia testified last week that he spoke with Pape twice by phone within a few hours of learning Friedli and her loved ones had been killed.
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 a hiking excursion near her family’s house on remote Alpine Drive.
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 that what were then suspected to be Becky Friedli’s charred remains had been discovered in the wheelbarrow, since that information had not been publicly disclosed.
“Where did you get that?” the detective asked.
“(Javier) was just telling me about it,” Pape said. “I just assumed he got it (at the scene).”
The investigator asked the defendant point-blank whether he killed Friedli, to which Pape replied at the end of a nervous laugh shared by Michaels, “No.”
Pape went on to say he didn’t know who might have committed the murders, volunteering that he’d heard the young woman had “gotten into fights” and that he did not perceive her as “a fragile girl.”
The defendant also told Michaels that he understood one of Friedli’s relatives had floated a rumor that he “beat her” during the year they were dating. Pape further related that Friedli had openly pondered suicide and told him about “dreams she had of killing herself.”
Michaels ended the interview but received a call from Pape the following day, during which the defendant said, in the recorded conversation, that he omitted from his “story line” the fact that Friedli had “been kind of obsessed with me” in the eight months after their breakup.
“She’s been showing pictures of me,” Pape said. “Javier said she’s got a whole cabinet full of my letters from when we were going out.”
The defendant said a co-worker had relayed that Friedli had been talking about her prior relationship with him “a lot.”
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.
Friedli conveyed that Pape wanted his best friend, Smith, to join them on the hike and that she was fine with it, Garcia said.
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 learned early the next morning Friedli, her mom and Hayward had been killed. An autopsy showed the woman and Hayward were shot to death. Friedli’s death was ruled “homicidal violence” because the exact cause could not be determined due to extensive fire damage.
Garcia said when he contacted Pape on Sept. 18, 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.
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 District Attorney Brandon 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 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 had gone awry, prompting him and Pape to “torch the whole (expletive) place,” the prosecutor said.