The Superior Court has consulted with an architect to alter a courtroom so that two separate juries can hear the Dystiny Myers murder trial at the same time.
During a pretrial hearing Tuesday, Judge Barry LaBarbera ruled that there will be one trial for all the defendants. But one jury will be selected to hear the death-penalty case of defendant Ty Michael Hill of Santa Maria, and another jury will determine the fate of the other defendants, who do not face the death penalty. They are Cody Miller of Fresno, Nipomo residents Frank York and Rhonda Wisto, and Jason Greenwell of Nipomo, who is expected to plead guilty and testify for the prosecution.
All of the defendants are charged with killing Myers, a 15-year-old Santa Maria girl whose body was found beaten and burned near Santa Margarita on Sept. 26, 2010.
LaBarbera could overturn his ruling in a future court hearing. If it stands, 36 seats would be required for jurors and alternates to hear the evidence at the same time.
To accommodate such a crowd — not to mention numerous attorneys and defendants — the case would be moved to a larger courtroom.
A raised platform would have to be built in what is now a public seating area to accommodate a second jury. The witness stand would also be raised, LaBarbera said, and additional space would be provided for all the attorneys and defendants.
This would be the first time multiple juries have viewed the same trial in San Luis Obispo County.
LaBarbera, the last judge to preside over a trial that was moved outside the county because of pretrial publicity — the 2002 Rex Krebs double homicide case, which was heard in Monterey — was in a peculiar position Tuesday.
On the one hand, he has sealed the case in an attempt to limit the information available to potential jurors. Yet, in the motion to split the trials, defense attorneys wanted to discuss evidence, such as testimony regarding the time of death and videotaped interviews with the defendants.
“This is a unique case,” said LaBarbera, who attempted to keep discussions about evidence vague. “Each of the defendants has admitted complicity in some respect.”
Separate juries will be necessary because testimony for one trial might not be admissible in another. To avoid any problems, one jury would have to leave the courtroom while the other remained to hear the evidence.
If the plan for two juries goes forward, attorneys will select one for Hill first. If Hill is convicted, that jury would continue to hear the death-penalty phase of his trial.
The next pretrial hearing is scheduled for Oct. 29.