- Associated Press - Friday, October 3, 2014

INDIO, Calif. (AP) - Prosecutors on Friday dismissed murder charges against two men previously accused of killing three members of a Southern California household whose bodies were found at a burning home.

The Riverside County District Attorney’s office dropped all charges against Robert Pape, 26, and Cristin Smith, 25, citing legal issues that arose during grand jury proceedings against Pape. Prosecutors said a recent review of the proceedings prompted them to make the decision and declined to discuss the case in further detail.

The two men were arrested in March. They were charged with the 2006 murders of Pape’s ex-girlfriend, 18-year-old Becky Friedli, her mother, Vicki Friedli, and her mother’s boyfriend, Jon Hayward. The teenager’s body was found on fire in a wheelbarrow near the family’s home in the rural community of Pinyon Pines. The other two victims’ bodies were found inside.

Pape and Smith were ordered released from jail at a court proceeding in Indio, near Palm Springs. They were set to be freed later in the day.

John Patrick Dolan, Smith’s lawyer, welcomed the decision and said his client hopes to resume his career as an Army Ranger and meet his newborn daughter.

“The case didn’t have any merit. There was insufficient evidence,” Dolan said. “Many times, the more gruesome and difficult and horrific the case, the more likely a judge is to allow a case to go forward, even if the evidence is thin, and I think that is probably what happened here.”

A message left for Pape’s lawyer, Richard Blumenfeld, wasn’t immediately returned.

Prosecutors said the investigation into the murders was ongoing.

Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach had been ordered to appear as a witness at a hearing Monday on a motion to dismiss the charges against Pape. John Hall, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said the order was not related to the decision to dismiss the charges.

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