The Avalanche Effect

If You Can’t Dazzle ’em with Brilliance…

As the Pinyon Pines Murder trial progressed, one expert after another was paraded through the courtroom to attest to the existence of evidence. But the common thread among many of them was: while it technically was evidence in the murder investigation, it in no way proved that Robert Pape or Cristin Smith had anything to do with these horrific crimes.

It appears the idea was to convince the jury that the evidence was overwhelming against these defendants, making their eyes glaze over in the process.

So here is a partial list of elements of what could be called an ‘Avalanche Effect’. Interesting, concerning, compelling, but ultimately unrelated to anything.

Bank Statements

Custodian of Records for Bank of America, Jessica Woodbridge, was brought in to read from Pape’s bank statement from the night of the murders. No chapstick purchase on the bank statement. But, one must ask… Chap-Stick? Really? A $0.69 cent purchase like that, especially for an 18 year old kid, would most likely be made with pocket change. Why would they bother to go through the trouble to prove he didn’t purchase it with a debit card? Just one way to allude to guilt by showing a lack of evidence proving innocence, an innocence that could have been proven had the investigators looked into their alibis in a timely fashion. The video surveillance of Pape and Smith at the gas station could have helped to prove their innocence, but the investigators did not go to the gas station until after the tapes had been erased, although they knew about Pape and Smith’s stop at the gas station the morning after the murders occurred.

Furthermore, did Pape actually bring home a new Chap-Stick to his cousin, as promised? The jury never found out. Why? Because the investigators, as with a great many other things, never followed up on that. They never interviewed Pape’s cousin. You would think that it would be valuable to talk to whomever saw him immediately after they believed he committed these heinous acts: Was he agitated? Dirty? Covered in blood? Did he smell like gasoline? The Riverside Sheriffs simply didn’t bother to ask FOR TEN YEARS!!! (By the way, the answer is ‘yes’ to Chap-Stick and ‘no’ to dirty, stinky and agitated, per the witness who was eventually interviewed by the defense.)

Shell Casings

Out of dozens of spent casings, of various sizes, that were found at Robert Pape’s house, there was exactly one of the .40 caliber size, and exactly one of the 10mm size. The idea was to prove that Robert owned a Glock .40 caliber handgun, because that was possibly the kind used in one of the murders. Not just a .40 cal, but a Glock .40 cal.  It was important to the prosecution that it be a Glock in order to tie in to other evidence.

First of all, it was clear that Robert had picked up this collection of different casings from some shooting range area.  It is no secret that Robert and his friends (and his friend’s father) often went shooting. Robert owned a shotgun and a clay pigeon launcher. The fact that the collection contained one shell of each kind found demonstrates that Robert was teaching himself about bullets, learning what was out there, collecting physical specimens for reference.

But the prosecution implied that the existence of one .40 cal cartridge and one 10mm cartridge surely demonstrates Glock ownership. According to the prosecution, this proved guilt. They even brought in an expert to testify that these were spent cartridges. (duh!)

After making a big screen presentation about the two individual casings, long after the point was made and solidified in the record, one expert witness was called back to clarify: Firearms Analyst, Richard Takenaga, from the DOJ. Under direct examination for the defense, he was asked about the type of firing pin that had discharged these bullets. Was it from a Glock? The answer was no! The class of firing pin was definitely not used in Glock handguns. No shell casings found at Pape’s house were consistent with a Glock handgun.

So, this piece of evidence, about which much presentation was made, doesn’t fit the prosecution’s story.  Supposedly, Robert owned a Glock, these two individual casings were part of the proof, yet they were not fired by a Glock. They were just random casings picked up by a curious kid.


This is a BIG one! The way this was presented, was the definition of a red herring.

red her┬Ěring
  • something, especially a clue, that is or is intended to be misleading or distracting.

When, Jeff Buompensiero, a Lt. with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Dept. took the stand, he testified to the fact that a grey pair of size 12 Vans shoes were taken from Pape’s house.

FBI footwear and tire impression analyst, Eric Gilkerson, was flown in from Quantico, VA to attest to one fact: The footprints at the crime scene with the Van’s logo were, in fact, Van’s shoes.

But there is one big flaw: The Van’s shoes found at Robert Pape’s house were a completely different tread pattern than the prints from the crime scene.

So, they never found the shoes that made the prints at the scene and the investigators never found anything to connect this smoking evidence to the defendants, however, the jury wasn’t told of that. They were left to make their own assumptions. “Why was this shown? It must be related!” they probably thought.

On cross-examination, another little nugget of truth appeared. Did Gilkerson check the size of the shoe print? Could he? The answer is yes, he could identify the size, and he certainly would have, IF HE HAD BEEN ASKED TO DO SO.  The investigators made no such request. You would think that size would be important, especially since Van’s shoes are so popular. At least you could eliminate the size 12 people if it was a size 9 track.  But, no, that didn’t fit the ‘wedge’ strategy. Wedge only the wanted facts into the proposed story.  Omit anything that might interfere with the story. Win.

Cell Tower Data

In this analysis of the cell tower connections made that night, it is shown that this data is totally ambiguous. If you want to believe they are guilty, you can use this to contort yourself into that belief.  Otherwise, it just demonstrates a random drive around the valley floor – one that is easily correlated with the description, told to the investigators, about their whereabouts that night.

Gas Cans

Gas cans and more gas cans.  There were metal ones and plastic ones. Red ones and green ones. Gas cans in the attic and gas cans in the garage. They were everywhere.

Does this prove the defendants did it? You would think so, the way they were displayed so prominently.

But they, themselves don’t prove anything.

Burn patterns on the house floor demonstrate that an accelerant, of some kind, was probably used to start the fire. But all of these gas cans had spouts on them, or they were closed.  If you are starting a fire to burn evidence, you don’t use a spout! You take the lid off and pour the gas out as fast as possible. Spouts take time.

But again, and more importantly, does any of this relate to the defendants?  Were there any fingerprints? Any DNA on the gas cans?  No. There was not. So why include this into the trial? The burn patterns amply demonstrate the use of accelerants. The presence of gas cans simply shows that the members of the household owned lots gas cans, which makes sense considering the remote location of the house and the amount of vehicles they owned.

The act of including this into the ‘avalanche of evidence’ was designed to build upon the impression of a solid case against the defendants, yet is irrelevant in the case against them.

(Did one of the other suspects, with motive, mysteriously have gas cans in the trunk of his car within days of the fire? Yes, he did! But the judge did not allow us to talk about him, as that would be considered 3rd party culpability.)

The Business Card

This bit of evidence falls into the Avalanche theory for this reason: The visible condition of the card, as well as the degraded DNA on it, showed it had probably been out in the sun for days, potentially even weeks or months. While it is physical evidence that could be construed to indicate Cristin Smith’s presence at the scene, it doesn’t indicate when he may have been there, or if he had ever been there at all. Since it is a business card, and not a piece of personal property, it doesn’t really prove anything. Business cards are meant to travel. He could have touched it, months prior, at the home of Pape’s mother (where it most likely originated). Becky, who also spent lots of time at Pape’s house, could have picked it up and it traveled with her, back to her home. DNA has no time or location stamp, and business cards are meant to travel.

If it Doesn’t Fit, You Must Omit

There are a great many facts about the evidence that, had there not been that pesky defense, would have never seen the light of day.

The non-Glock firing pin

The non-matching shoe soles

The aged, degraded DNA on the card

The rejection by several DNA labs

The rejection by several fingerprint analysts

The Incentive to WIN

It is a core ethic of our justice system that even a guilty man deserves a vigorous defense. But, does an innocent man deserve a vigorous prosecution? Should not the prosecution be willing to provide even exculpatory evidence to the jury? Is the goal not to protect the innocent while trying to prosecute the guilty? Protecting the innocent comes first. It is another core ethic of our justice system that “ten guilty should go free before one innocent should suffer”. Benjamin Franklin took it even further, that “one hundred guilty should go free…”

Although our justice system started with noble intentions, those intentions have since been perverted. The prosecutor’s incentive is to WIN, regardless of who gets hurt. “A winning record is a good record” the thinking goes. Career advancement depends on winning. Someday, if you convict enough people, you may even become District Attorney.

“Good prosecutors win their cases, but it takes a great prosecutor to put an innocent man in prison.” – Rod Pacheco, former Riverside County District Attorney

Comments 1

  1. I’ve been following this case for several months now. In my opinion, the sentencing of these two young men is a travesty and a black eye on our justice system. I’ve also heard that their star witness, Jermey Witt is a felon and the prosecuting attorneys used a paid actor to read Jermey Witt’s testimony to the jury. Obviously, the defense team can’t cross examine the star-witness if an actor is only reading a written statement!

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