Two men who went to a Pinyon Pines home on the pretense of taking an excursion with an 18-year-old woman, then killed her and two other people in what remains an attack steeped in more questions than answers, were convicted today of first-degree murder and other charges.
A 10-man, two-woman jury in Riverside deliberated nearly two weeks before finding 30-year-old Robert Lars Pape and 20-year-old Cristin Conrad Smith guilty of the 2006 attack at 68-550 Alpine Drive, south of Palm Springs.
Pape was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder, while Smith was acquitted of one murder charge and found guilty of two others in the first degree. The acquittal related to 18-year-old Becky Friedli, while Pape’s second-degree conviction was also for her death. She died with her 53-year-old mother, Vicki Friedli, and the latter’s boyfriend, 55-year-old Jon Hayward.
Jurors found true special circumstance allegations that both men had taken multiple lives in the same crime.
“Nobody wins in this kind of case,” Riverside County Assistant District Attorney John Aki told City News Service outside the courtroom. “As for the victims’ families — I believe they received justice.”
Aki attributed the success of the prosecution’s case to a “great team of investigators.”
“They helped put it all together,” the veteran prosecutor said. “If not for them and their relentless commitment, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Pape’s attorney, Jeff Moore, declined to comment, while Smith’s attorney, John Dolan, was not immediately available.
Superior Court Judge Bernard Schwartz scheduled a sentencing hearing for Aug. 10 at the Riverside Hall of Justice.
Aki said in his closing argument on May 23 that the defendants’ own statements, forensic findings and electronic evidence were sufficient to convict Pape and Smith.
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’ home, which the defense challenged as tainted evidence and which 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.
Aki also refuted the argument by Dolan that it would have been impossible for the defendants to have gone to the Freidli home, carried out the 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 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 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 told Witt, “We were there. It all went wrong, and we torched the place.”
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 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 residence.
Hayward suffered two shotgun blasts to the chest, while Vicki Friedli was fatally wounded with a semiautomatic handgun. 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.
Aki acknowledged to jurors that Pape and Smith may never have intended to kill Becky Friedli, but rather just intimidate her. However, once she was killed behind the house, the only alternative to cover their tracks was to snuff out the lives of the last people to see her alive — her mother and Hayward, Aki contended.
The defendants’ statements to law enforcement, replayed several times for jurors, suggested they harbored some enmity toward Becky Friedli. Pape told one investigator that the young woman was “kind of obsessed with me,” even though they had ended their relationship eight months before her murder. The defendant portrayed little sympathy immediately after her death. Smith, too, spoke in low terms about the victim, characterizing her as a bother who frequently sought Pape’s attention.