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Two Hayward teenagers pleaded not guilty today to murder and arson charges for the October strangulation death of a Castro Valley woman whose home was also set on fire. Christian Birdsall, 16, and Cody Nicosia, 18, are also charged with the special circumstances of committing a murder during a robbery in connection with the Oct. 17 death of 58-year-old Barbara Latiolais. Birdsall and Nicosia, who are being held in custody without bail, are scheduled to return to Alameda County Superior Court in Hayward on April 19 for a pretrial hearing.
Birdsall is being prosecuted as an adult, even though he’s under the age of 18. Latiolais’ body was found at about 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. 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. Birdsall attended 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. Sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Dickson 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 yard work, 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 at about 10:30 p.m. that night to set the house on fire in an attempt to cover up evidence in the case.
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