CASTRO VALLEY (CBS SF) — Two teenagers were arraigned Friday on murder and arson charges for the strangulation death last week of a Castro Valley woman whose home was also set on fire.
Christian Birdsall, 16, and Cody Nicosia, 18, also were charged with the special circumstances of committing a murder during the course of a robbery in connection with the Oct. 17 death of 58-year-old Barbara Latiolais.
Birdsall and Nicosia are scheduled to return to Alameda County Superior Court on Monday to be assigned attorneys and potentially enter pleas. Birdsall is being prosecuted as an adult, even though he’s under the age of 18.
Latiolais’ body was found around 12:15 a.m. on Oct. 18 after the house in the 2400 block of San Carlos Avenue was set on fire, Alameda County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. J.D. Nelson said.
Describing the crime as “the kind of case that fears and nightmares are made of,” Nelson said an investigation determined that Birdsall and Nicosia had a plan to steal guns and money from the home that Latiolais shared with her longtime boyfriend, retired San Francisco firefighter Michael Rice, 60.
Birdsall knew the couple because he’s a distant relative of Rice and had done some yard work for them, Nelson said. The two teens planned their crime for Oct. 17 because they knew Rice was out of the state at that time, he said.
KCBS’ Holly Quan Reports:
Birdsall attends Redwood Continuation High School in Castro Valley and was living with Nicosia, who graduated from Castro Valley High School in June, and Nicosia’s father in Hayward, according to Nelson.
Sgt. Dave Dickson, who led an intensive investigation in which 20 deputies worked up to 18 hours a day, said the two teens arrived at the home around 8 a.m. on Oct. 17 and waited for four or five hours for Latiolais to leave, but when she continued to stay in the house, they decided to go inside and “made the decision to kill her.”
Latiolais let Birdsall inside after he knocked on her door and said he wanted to do additional yardwork, Nelson said.
Birdsall then opened the back door for Nicosia, who hid in the house for nearly an hour before grabbing Latiolais from behind and choking her to make her pass out.
The two teens next took guns, rare coins, jewelry and cash from the house and when they heard Latiolais making noises that indicated she was still alive they took a rope and strangled her to death.
Birdsall and Nicosia then drove off with the loot in the couple’s Volvo and had a late lunch at a local restaurant, according to Nelson.
Nelson said Birdsall and Nicosia later realized that “they left a dead body and evidence behind” so they returned to the home around 10:30 p.m. that night to set the house on fire in an attempt to cover up evidence in the case.
Nelson said investigators got a break in the case on the morning of Oct. 18, when Birdsall drove the Volvo to Redwood Continuation High School but realized after his first class that he probably shouldn’t be using the car any longer.
Birdsall then left the campus to drive the car to nearby Brookdale Avenue, where he left it, according to Nelson. He said a witness saw Birdsall leaving the car and later gave authorities a description of him.
In addition, Nelson said, when Birdsall rushed back to school campus police stopped him for being tardy and made him sign in, which was a key piece of evidence in the timeline of the case.
Nelson said the crime was “a despicable act” because Latiolais “was in the sanctity of her own home but was violated by someone she knows and trusted.”
Referring to both teens, Nelson said, “These two are evil to do something like this.”
Dickson said, “I’ve been doing this for 29 years and this is the most callous crime I’ve ever been associated with.”
Dixon said Rice “is absolutely devastated by this situation” and “broke down and started crying” when he was told all the details of the crime.
He said Latiolais is survived by a daughter, a sister and several nieces.
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