One of the five defendants in the Dystiny Myers homicide case will face a death penalty charge — and another’s fate is yet to be decided.
Ty Michael Hill, who some of the defendants said was the leader in carrying out the 15-year-old’s slaying, will face the death penalty if he’s convicted of killing Myers.
Rhonda Maye Wisto, who some defendants said ordered the killing of Myers, also could face the death penalty.
But Chief Deputy District Attorney Timothy Covello said he’s waiting to seek that penalty as prosecutors gather more evidence that would help make a decision in Wisto’s case.
The three others accused — Jason Adam Greenwell, Frank Jacob York and Cody Lane Miller — won’t face the death penalty, Covello said in court Thursday. They face a maximum sentence of life without the possibility of parole if they’re convicted of the charges.
Each of the five is accused of premeditated murder with special circumstances of kidnapping, torture and aiding and abetting in the alleged crime.
Covello didn’t give an explanation in court as to why Hill is being charged with the death penalty. A gag order forbids anyone involved in the trial from talking about it outside of court.
But an investigator previously testified at the preliminary hearing that York said Hill planned the attack and that Hill was familiar with the Santa Margarita location where Myers was found dead after being bound, beaten and burned on Sept. 26.
Hill also wanted to kill Miller, who ran into the woods near the crime scene after his alleged co-conspirators struck him in the head with a shovel, according to testimony at the preliminary hearing.
Wisto ordered the killings of Myers and Miller, according to the testimony of detectives.
For the prosecutors to win a death penalty conviction, they must prove premeditated, first-degree murder and special circumstances.
Each of the defendants has pleaded not guilty to murder and denied the special circumstances. They remain in County Jail without bail.
Sheriff’s Department and Santa Maria Police Department investigators testified that Miller, Greenwell and York each played a role in the homicide based on defendants’ interviews with police.
Under the California Rules of Court, the lawyers for Hill and Wisto will have to show qualifications that they can handle death penalty cases, or they’ll have to get assistance from a lawyer who is qualified.
The defendants are next scheduled to appear in court March 17 for a pretrial hearing and a discussion of which lawyers will handle Hill’s and Wisto’s cases.
The last person accused of a San Luis Obispo County murder to be sentenced to the death penalty was Rex Krebs. In 2002, he was convicted of raping and killing Cuesta College student Aundria Crawford and Cal Poly student Rachel Newhouse in 1999.
Before that, a judge sentenced Michael Whisenhunt to die in 1996 for torturing a 20-month-old toddler in Paso Robles whom he scalded with grease and kicked ferociously in the stomach.
The death penalty phase of a trial takes place if the defendant is convicted of first-degree murder.
The jury then must determine whether statutory aggravating factors or mitigating factors exist in assessing the penalty.
The jury may choose the death penalty or life in prison — either with or without the possibility of parole.