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EXCLUSIVE: Key witness in Pinyon Pines triple murder trial speaks out

060818 WITT EXCLUSIVE

On Sept. 17, 2006, 18-year-old Becky Friedli was killed, her body burned at her Pinyon Pines home. Her mother, Vicki Friedli, 53, and mother's boyfriend, Jon Hayward, 55, were shot and killed. The family's home was burned to the ground. 

The case was left unsolved for 12 years until yesterday when a 12-person jury found Cristin Smith and Robert Pape guilty of the murder of Vicki and Jon. Pape was found guilty in the killing of Becky.

Jeremy Witt used to work with Cristin Smith back in 2007 at Knotts Soak City, a waterpark in Palm Springs. He said an odd conversation he had with Smith ended up being a key role in the jurors reaching the ultimate verdicts. 

"He was in a daze. He was not checked in and at that point is when he said, 'something went wrong, and we torched the whole effing place,'" Witt recalled.

Witt spoke with KESQ & CBS Local 2's Lauren Coronado about his time with Smith.

Lauren asked Witt when he had realized the conversation between himself and Smith was connected to the triple murder. 

Smith responded, "Around that time, I got a call from one of the other supervisors, who later became Smith's wife, her roommate, and best friend, said 'the police are here, don't tell anyone from work', and I said 'for what?' and that's when she straight up said, 'well Cristin's best friend, his ex-girlfriend was murdered last year.' Then I'm thinking guns, and I'm starting to put things together."

It all came together for Witt when he saw a story about the murder on TV. That's when he decided to make an anonymous call to police.

"I just had to make the call, maybe it was nothing, I hoped it was nothing, but if I could just give the information to the proper authorities then they would work and do their job," Witt said.

Witt testified back in 2016 during a preliminary hearing but during the latest trial, he plead the 5th in order to not to incriminate himself in a separate open case against him. The defendants argued he wasn't a credible source calling two people to testify against his character. He said he was convicted of a felony and has a restraining order against him and was known to be aggressive. Witt denies the felony conviction, showing paperwork from the U.S Marine Corps calling him back for active duty after the alleged conviction.

Read: Witt's impeachment hearing on Day 15 of Pinyon Pines trial

"John Patrick Dolan, smiths attorney said before he even knew who I was, at the preliminary hearing, 'this is not a credible witness, I'm going to prove he's not a credible witness,' and he didn't even know who I was, I wasn't named yet, so that seemed kind of pre-emptive to me," Witt said.

He continued, "The thing about credibility is, obviously the judge made the determination that what I had said was credible enough."

Witt's 2016 testimony was read to the jury and after the verdicts came down, prosecutors said Witt's testimony seemed to align with the verdicts. 

"The verdicts themselves seemed to point out the jury believed something went wrong between Robert and Becky. That's right in line with what Cristin Smith said to Jeremy Witt. Which was that something went wrong and we torched the place. Whether or not they took that into consideration, I don't know, but what the jury's verdict seems to reflect that statement from 2007," said Brandon Smith, Assistant District Attorney for Riverside County.

Witt is happy with the verdict, but feels sorry for all families involved.

"I'm thankful that the proper verdict was reached for the Hayward and Friedli families and I'm sorry for the Pape and Smith families, it's a lose, lose situation, there was no winners in this," Witt said.

Pape and Smith are facing life in prison without parole. Their sentencing date is scheduled for August 10. 

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