The murder trial of Robert Pape and Cristin Smith for a triple homicide in Pinyon in 2006 has become both suspenseful and slowly and cautiously procedural. While the defendants are being prosecuted for murder, the defense is alleging that evidence was misrepresented to the grand jury, exculpatory evidence was omitted and local politics played a role in the indictment of Pape and Smith. And Smith’s attorney holds Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach responsible.
The next act will be before the court on Monday, Oct. 6, when Zellerbach has been ordered to appear. All of the procedural motions were re-scheduled for three weeks.
Pape’s attorney raised the suspense bar with a subpoena requiring Zellerbach to appear during the hearing on the motion to suppress evidence, which was initially scheduled for Sept. 15.
On Friday, Sept. 12, Judge Michael Naughton agreed with the DA’s motion to quash the subpoena. During Monday’s proceedings, the trial judge, Charles Stafford, acknowledged another judicial official had quashed the subpoena and he was unwilling to overrule it. However, he encouraged the defense to re-subpoena Zellerbach for the next court hearing.
But later he decided to order Zellerbach to appear at the October proceeding and said the court does not need to subpoena his presence.
“DA Zellerbach is aware of the judge’s order and intends at this time to abide by the order,” said John Hall, senior public information specialist for the District Attorney’s Office, Tuesday morning.
On Sept. 5, Richard Blumenfeld, Pape’s defense counsel, filed a motion to dismiss the indictment. He made several arguments. All involved essentially the DA’s office misleading or concealing evidence during the grand jury proceeding, as well as violating Pape’s Fourth Amendment protections against an unreasonable search.
While Blumenfeld attacks specific evidence, such as Smith’s DNA on a business card found at the crime scene, he relies heavily on evidence that might point to other suspects and was never presented to the grand jury.
Blumenfeld objects to the case as being entirely circumstantial and paper thin. Essentially, he claims it was created by “… shenanigans in an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the grand jury.”
The investigation was originally “aborted within a year or so of the homicides …,” then was revived “… on the same state of the evidence previously rejected by the District Attorney as insufficient to prosecute [Pape] or anyone else for these crimes,” he wrote.
In his concluding sentence, Blumenfeld plays the politics card, entwining Zellerbach in the murder case.
Blumenfeld describes the DA’s office’s conduct during the grand jury proceedings as “… a pattern of gross misconduct.” He then attributes this behavior to Zellerbach.
“Initially these tactics were probably calculated to get the District Attorney through a bitter re-election campaign. The election is over. It is time this court said ‘Enough,’” he wrote.
On the night of Sept. 17, 2006, Becky Friedli, 18, her mother, Vicki Friedli, 53, and Vicki’s boyfriend, Jon Hayward, 55, were found dead at their Pinyon home. Becky’s body was found burning in a wheelbarrow outside the house. The other bodies were found inside the burning home.
On March 11 this year, both Pape, 26, and Smith, 25, were arrested and charged for these murders. They were high school friends.
Other issues deferred until October included the prosecution’s request to combine the trials for Pape and Smith into one. Currently there are two trials because Pape is eligible for the death penalty and Smith is not because he was a minor when the homicides occurred.
The DA’s office argued that there are many precedents for combining trials of defendants when only one may receive a death sentence. Both the U.S. Supreme Court and the California Supreme Court have held “that a noncapital defendant’s right to a trial by an impartial jury is not violated by his being jointly tried with the capital defendant.”