HAYWARD -- Two teenagers charged with strangling a Castro Valley woman and then returning later to set her body on fire pleaded not guilty to murder and arson charges Friday in Alameda County Superior Court.

Christian Birdsall, 16, and Cody Nicosia, 18, entered the Hayward Hall of Justice courtroom shortly after 9 a.m., a faint smile crossing Nicosia's face as he noticed his picture being taken. Birdsall stared blankly ahead, gazing upward only to address the judge as he spoke.

After the pleas were entered, attorneys requested a delay on the teens' upcoming preliminary hearing, citing the need to review data related to the case. They are due back in court April 19 for a pretrial hearing.

"We don't have all of the police reports, and there are hundreds of hard copy pages and DVDs to review," said Albert Wax, who is representing Nicosia. "And we're expecting more to come."

Birdsall is being prosecuted as an adult in the case, even though he is younger than 18.

The slaying of 58-year-old Barbara Latiolais, which Alameda County Sheriff's deputies called "the kind of case nightmares are made of," occurred about noon Oct. 17 inside a home at 2431 San Carlos Ave. in Castro Valley. Latiolais lived there with her longtime partner, Michael J. Rice, 60, a retired San Francisco firefighter.

Witnesses who saw Birdsall driving a car belonging to the victim helped lead investigators to the teens less than 48 hours after Latiolais was strangled.


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Police issued a search warrant for a Hayward home on Rex Road, where both teens were living with Nicosia's father.

When investigators arrived, Nicosia's father became upset and told the teens, "If you did something, you need to come clean."

Police said Nicosia then looked his father in the eye and told him, "We killed someone."

Birdsall, who was distantly related to Latiolais' partner and had previously done yard work for him, knew he was going to be out of town and made plans to rob his home, investigators said.

The suspects waited outside and, when Latiolais failed to leave the home as expected, Birdsall went to the door about noon and offered to do some work.

"They had made the decision to kill her before he walked up to the door," Alameda County Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. J.D. Nelson said.

Latiolais, who neighbors described as a "kind, peaceful woman," let Birdsall into the home. He unlocked the back door for Nicosia, who allegedly came up behind the woman and choked her until she passed out. According to Nelson, the two strangled her with a rope after she began making noises.

The teens allegedly completed the burglary, left the home in the couple's Volvo and went to lunch at a local restaurant. After meeting up with friends, they reportedly decided to return to the house, where they are thought to have soaked Latiolais' body with gasoline and spread fuel around the home. The pair left close to midnight, reportedly after throwing a match through the front door.

Fire crews found Latiolais' body while extinguishing the blaze.

"This woman was in the sanctity of her own home, and violated by someone she trusted," Nelson said. "Why two teenagers would do something like this is beyond imagination."

After the court appearance Friday, Cody Nicosia's attorney said his client was feeling remorse.

"Cody's demeanor has changed," said Wax. "He's feeling very sorry."

The teens remain in Santa Rita Jail in Dublin on no-bail holds.