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Pair who murdered Pinyon Pines family to be sentenced

 

Last updated 8/12/2018 at 8:37pm

RIVERSIDE - Relatives of three people killed by two men in Pinyon Pines more than a decade ago vented their sorrow and expressed relief today that justice had finally arrived for the perpetrators.

"When they killed my little sister Becky, they stole my world,'' Jessica "Drew'' Friedli told the court during the sentencing hearing for 30-year-old Robert Lars Pape and 29-year-old Cristin Conrad Smith. "I lost everything when they took the lives of my mother and sister. All that was left were charred corpses of the beautiful people they once were.''

Pape and Smith killed 18-year-old Becky Friedli, her mother, 53-year-old Vicki Friedli, and her mother's longtime partner, 55-year-old Jon Hayward on the night of Sept. 17, 2006.

"I felt I lost everything after my father was maliciously killed,'' said Kathryn Hayward, the victim's daughter. "The devastation created by these two individuals has caused so much heartache. They carried on with their lives afterward. They got to feel happiness, while ours was taken. Whatever punishment these two individuals receive for taking him, Becky and Vicki from

us, they deserve more.''

In June, a 10-man, 2-woman jury found Pape and 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 Becky Friedli, while Pape's second-degree conviction was for her death.

Jurors found true special circumstance allegations that both men had taken multiple lives in the same crime, requiring they receive life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The number of speakers during the sentencing pushed proceedings beyond the lunch hour into the afternoon.

Smith's relatives and friends addressed the court in the morning, as well. Two of the defendant's squadmates from the U.S. Army Rangers, Raymond Holderson and Josh Carroll, both praised him as "selfless'' and displaying "courage'' in combat. They recounted how the Iraq War veteran took a bullet that tore open half of one of his arms -- and continued fighting, ensuring that other wounded men were removed from an enemy engagement before seeking treatment for himself.

Smith's ailing father, John Conrad Smith, challenged the jury's findings, leveling criticism at the prosecution for relying on the testimony of a convicted felon to mount a case against his son.

"He didn't do what they said,'' the elder Smith told the court tearfully. "He's an outstanding young man. Mistakes were made that could have resolved this a lot sooner. All are going to have to pay a price.''

The defendant's mother, Jana Smith, asserted her son's innocence and assailed detectives for "totally ridiculous'' management of the investigation.

"My son has never been a threat to society,'' she said. "He served his country and never asked for recognition. I pray for justice because this is not justice.''

Assistant District Attorney John Aki said that the defendants' own statements, forensic findings, and electronic evidence were sufficient to convict them.

He argued there was no doubt the men were in Pinyon Pines, 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.

Smith told a detective less than a week after the murders that he had

never been to the house.

According to Aki, 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 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.''

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.

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.

He evinced 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.

 

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