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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 20th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 2 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 2

Wisto and York trial: Unnerving, gruesome, and heartbreaking

BY MATT FOUNTAIN

The trial in the 2010 kidnapping and murder of 15-year old Dystiny Myers is well underway, with the prosecutor alleging that the two remaining defendants ran a methamphetamine ring, and defense attorneys laying blame for the actual murder on a defendant who already accepted a plea deal.


A TRIAL LONG OVERDUE
Jason Greenwell, 23, described how murdered Santa Maria teen Dystiny Myers was bound at the wrists during his March 18 testimony against his former friends Rhonda Wisto and Jacob York in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court.
POOL PHOTO COURTESY OF DAVID MIDDLECAMP/THE TRIBUNE

Despite the stated efforts of the prosecution, proceedings often turned gruesome and tense, and included photos taken of the charred hole where the young victim’s remains were discovered.

Attorneys for Rhonda Wisto—the alleged ringleader—and Frank Jacob York, Wisto’s son, last week rejected the arguments that their clients conspired and carried out the brutal murder, and challenged expected testimony from two former defendants who had accepted plea deals.

During opening statements on March 11, Chief Deputy District Attorney Tim Covello characterized Wisto as the mastermind in a “budding criminal enterprise” that included “the ultimate facilitator,” former defendant Ty Michael Hill—the sole individual who faced the death penalty—who entered a guilty plea on Jan. 3 in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Covello described the mother and son as associated with street gangs and operating a safe house where methamphetamine was sold and consumed. He suggested Wisto ordered York and his friends carry out Myers’ murder because Myers’ knew too much about the group’s dealings and was disrespectful to Wisto.

Wisto’s attorney, Michael Cummins, acknowledged that his client was “not a saint,” but said she also was not a murderer, and blamed the act on Hill, whom he called “the purest manifestation of evil in human form you have ever encountered.” He further characterized two other defendants who made damning statements to investigators about Wisto as “serial liars.”

Gerald Carrasco, defense for York, told jurors that his client spent most of his time at his girlfriend’s house and wasn’t home when the others plotted to kill Myers.

Following initial arguments, witnesses began pouring in for the prosecution, namely first responders to Park Hill Road in rural Santa Margarita, including Ken Jones, a forensic specialist with the SLO Sheriff’s Department, who later examined the truck in question, discovering a bag containing a knife sharpener, brass knuckles, and a box of gloves.

The defense chose not to cross-examine many of the witnesses.

The most gruesome testimony came from retired deputy Stephen Crawford. Heads shook, eyes averted, and Myers’ mother had to rush out of the courtroom as jurors were shown graphic slides of Myers’ burned body on the autopsy table. Crawford testified how Myers’ body was bound, a sweatshirt wrapped tightly around her neck and ankles, and a glove shoved in her mouth.

According to Crawford, the determined cause of death was mechanical asphyxiation, which was exacerbated by blunt force trauma and methamphetamine intoxication.

On the second day of testimony, jurors heard from a number of associates of Wisto and York, including two currently in custody for drug-related charges, and some of which contradicted earlier statements to investigators, according to the prosecution.

Witness Dwayne Bourgeois admitted to the jury that he supplied meth and cash to people at Wisto’s house and described how he and his friends “watched each other’s back” and tried to keep each other out of trouble.

“I never thought anything of this magnitude would happen,” Bourgeois said.

Another, Wisto’s neighbor Randy Shurtz, told jurors he didn’t want to testify and had “better things to do.”

The trial was expected to include testimony from co-defendants Cody Lane Miller, 22, who initially pleaded guilty Jan. 7 and was scheduled for sentencing May 15; as well as Jason Greenwell, 22, who has yet to enter a plea or receive a sentence pending his cooperation as a witness for the prosecution.

On March 14, jurors were shown footage of an interview between York and two Sheriff’s detectives, where York reluctantly told his version of events. He said Hill forced the group to beat Myers in York’s bedroom and then instructed them on how they would dispose of her body.

“I saw the whole fucking thing,” a weeping York told investigators. “It was pretty sick.”

In a surprise twist, Miller, who previously agreed to plead guilty in exchange for his testimony and a reduced sentence, abruptly reneged on the arrangement and refused to testify. The change means Miller could now face a trial of his own.

However, testimony from Greenwell went ahead as expected, with the man recounting a chain of events similar to what York told investigators, with minor differences regarding his and York’s involvement.

On the stand, Greenwell recalled that he heard York tell Wisto he didn’t want to carry out the murder, but that Wisto replied, “Sometimes things just have to happen.”

Greenwell said that just prior to the beating that led to her death, Myers told the group she was packing her bags and leaving the mobile home. That’s when Hill told them all to put on dark clothes and gloves and follow her inside. Greenwell stated that when he entered York’s room, he saw Myers bound at the wrists with tape and “out of it,” adding that Hill later told him she had been “slammed” with a dose of heroin.

Greenwell added that the last thing Myers said was for the group to tell her mom she loved her. At those words, Myers’ sobbing mother ran out of the courtroom. Greenwell also began to weep.

Testimony was set to continue March 21.