A decorated Army Ranger and another man accused of killing three people in Pinyon Pines in 2006 faced a judge in Indio Tuesday.
Cristin Conrad Smith, an Army sergeant who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Robert Lars Pape, both 25, were arrested last Tuesday in connection with the deaths of Vicki Friedli, 53, her boyfriend Jon Hayward, 55, and Friedli's 18-year-old daughter Becky. The three were killed Sept. 17, 2006, at their home on Alpine Drive.
The defendants are charged with three counts of murder, with special circumstance allegations of committing multiple murders, and two sentence- enhancing firearm-use allegations.
Smith pleaded not guilty to the charges in Riverside on Wednesday, but Pape's arraignment was rescheduled to Tuesday, the same day Smith had a felony settlement conference.
Riverside Superior Court Judge Ronald Johnson postponed Pape's arraignment until April 16, and ordered Smith back to court on March 25 for a preliminary hearing. A judge will determine at the hearing whether there is enough evidence for Smith to stand trial. Because Pape was indicted, the case will proceed directly to trial without a preliminary hearing.
Hayward's daughter, Katheryn Hayward, told reporters outside court that the victims' families "have faith in the justice system."
"Though we're disappointed the arraignment and the hearing are postponed, we are confident that progress is being made," she said.
John Patrick Dolan, one of Smith's attorneys, said Smith is a "decorated military hero whose personal history is completely inconsistent with the charges against him." Smith is a sergeant with the U.S. Army's 75th Ranger Regiment and is stationed with the 2nd Battalion at Joint Base Lewis- McChord in Fort Lewis, Wash., according to Army Lt. Col. Brian DeSantis.
"He didn't have any derogatory information in his file when he joined in 2008. We were very surprised by the subpoena in February and the arrest last Tuesday," DeSantis said. "Otherwise we're going to let the civilian legal process and court in Riverside County play out."
He said the regiment doesn't plan to take any action until this case concludes. Smith's battalion is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan later this year, he said.
Smith went through airborne school and Ranger assessments after basic training, and has been with the 75th Regiment's 2nd Battalion since July 2008. He was deployed to Afghanistan four times and Iraq one, and served as a rifleman, machine gunner, team leader and sniper. He has received two Purple Hearts and other medals and badges, DeSantis said.
Dolan said Smith's attorneys are seeking the preliminary hearing because they believe there isn't enough evidence for the case to proceed.
Deputy Public Defender Scott O'Meara, who represented Pape at the hearing, said Pape is in the process of hiring a private attorney.
Pape, a Rancho Mirage resident, could be eligible for the death penalty if convicted because he was an adult at the time of the killings, Riverside County District Attorney's Office spokesman John Hall said.
Smith faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if found guilty. He was 17 at the time of the murders.
Smith was arrested at Palm Springs International Airport and Pape in Salton City. Both were being held without bail at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside.
Pape, an ex-boyfriend of Becky Friedli, was charged in a grand jury indictment handed down last Tuesday and unsealed Wednesday in Riverside. Smith was originally named in the indictment, but his name was removed from the document because he was a juvenile at the time of the murders, Hall said. A criminal complaint was filed against him instead.
Firefighters who responded to a blaze at the victims' home the night of Sept. 17 found Becky Friedli's body burning in a wheelbarrow about 70 feet from the house. After firefighters doused the blaze, they found the bodies of Hayward and Vicki Friedli inside the house. Both had been shot, according to the D.A.'s office.
A friend of Becky Friedli's told investigators that Friedli had told him on the phone earlier that evening that she was waiting for Pape and Smith so the three could go hiking.
"Pape later told investigators that he and Smith decided not to go hiking with Becky and instead the two men were only with each other the night of the murders," Hall said.
DNA matched to Smith was found on a business card discovered near what investigators believed was the starting point of a trail left by the wheelbarrow containing Friedli's body, according to Hall. Smith said he'd never been to the Friedli home, the spokesman said.
"The chance that such a DNA match could happen at random is 1 in 320,000," he said.
According to a grand jury affidavit, Pape's and Smith's phones were shut off between 7 and 11 p.m. the night of the killings, and in October 2007, three shotguns and a handgun holster were found at the suspects' homes.
According to the affidavit, Pape and Becky Friedli dated for 15 months before they broke up in January 2006. She reportedly told a friend three weeks before she was killed that Pape had told her "that if he couldn't have her, nobody could."
The District Attorney's Office first received the case for review last April, and it was decided that more investigation was needed. The Riverside County Sheriff's Department brought the case back December, and the D.A.'s office did follow-up investigating and opted to present the case to a grand jury.
"Unfortunately, it has taken a long time for this investigation to reach this point. Now that charges have been filed against these two men, we are hopeful that this will bring some solace to the victims' families," District Attorney Paul Zellerbach said.
The grand jury that reviewed the case heard testimony from about 30 witnesses in five days, Hall said.
– City News Service.