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Two men charged in '06 Riverside County triple murder case

Authorities charged two men Wednesday with the 2006 murders of three people discovered shot to death in a burning house in Riverside County.

A grand jury indicted Cristin Conrad Smith, 25, and Robert Lars Pape, 25, on three counts of murder each, said John Hall, spokesman for the Riverside County district attorney's office. Smith and Pape were arrested Tuesday afternoon and are being held without bail at Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside.

Prosecutors believe Smith and Pape killed Becky Friedli; her mother, Vicki; and Vicki's boyfriend, Jon Hayward, nearly eight years ago. The three victims were found shot to death in the Friedli's home in the Pinyon Pines community south of Palm Desert. Becky's body had been set ablaze and was discovered in a wheelbarrow about 70 feet from the home.

After the sheriff's investigation stalled, the victims' families hired a team of private investigators and erected a billboard pleading for information on the case. In 2009, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger approved a $50,000 reward for information that would lead to an arrest.

Sheriff's detectives did not present a case for prosecution until April of 2013. Authorities launched a grand jury review last December after the detectives presented the case for a second time, Hall said. About 30 witnesses gave testimony over five days of hearings. Hall did not say what prompted the grand jury review.

"Unfortunately, it has taken a long time for this investigation to reach this point,” said District Atty. Paul Zellerbach. “Now that charges have been filed against these two men, we are hopeful that this will bring some solace to the victims’ families.”

A key piece of evidence was the discovery of a business card with Smith's DNA near a trail left by the wheelbarrow where Becky Friedli's body was discovered. An interview with Friedli's friend also revealed that Pape, Smith and Friedli had made plans to go hiking on the night of the murders, Hall said. Pape had initially told investigators that only he and Smith planned to go on a hike. 

Smith, represented by a public defender, pleaded not guilty to all charges at an arraignment hearing Wednesday morning. A trial date has not been set. He could receive the death penalty if convicted.

Pape did not enter a plea because his arraignment was delayed to give him time to find his own lawyer. Because he was a minor when the incident occurs, prosecutors will have to refile charges against him as an adult. A date for Smith's preliminary hearing has not been set. 

[For the Record: 3:51 p.m. PDT, March 14: A previous version of this post said Pape pleaded not guilty, but it was Smith who pleaded not guilty. Pape's hearing was postponed. It also incorrectly stated the DNA on a business card found near the scene of the crime matched Pape's, but it actually matched Smith's.]

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Twitter: @frankshyong

frank.shyong@latimes.com 

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