The Dystiny Myers murder trial is costing the county more than half a million dollars for public defenders that it had not budgeted, the county administrator’s office says.
The county Board of Supervisors last week moved $510,000 from its general fund contingency account to cover the costs, to pay for what has been spent already and take the trial through the end of the year. The contingency fund is used for unexpected and extraordinary costs.
Geoff O’ Quest of the county administrator’s office called the expenditure – and the case, with five murder defendants - “rare and unusual.”
He said the county did not place the amount in its normal budget request last year, which covers expenses by department for the fiscal year, which runs from July 1 through June 30.
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“Although we knew that expenses…..would be incurred……the amount was not known and could not be estimated,” O’ Quest wrote in an email to The Tribune.
Under the state constitution, the county must pay legal defense costs for indigents accused of crimes.
O’ Quest said San Luis Obispo County does not have staff attorneys to do that work. Instead it contracts out the work to private attorneys, primarily to three firms.
Through the end of December, O’ Quest said, the county had spent $1 million on the case. More than 80 percent of that was for one defendant, Ty Hill, who had faced the death penalty until he pled guilty in exchange for a life sentence.
Two others also pled out, and the murder trial of Jacob York and his mother, Rhonda Wisto, is ongoing. They have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
Initially, five defendants were charged with murdering Myers, a 15-year-old Santa Maria girl who once aspired to be a model. The prosecution alleges the defendants attacked Myers at Wisto's home on Sept. 26, 2010 -- and that Wisto had ordered the murder because Myers had shown disrespect to her.
The group allegedly took Myers to a spot outside of Santa Margarita, where her body was set on fire. After firefighters responded to what they thought was a grass fire, Cody Miller -- who would later become a co-defendant-- emerged from the early-morning darkness and told them about the body.
Miller, who carried Myers to the spot, said the others tried to kill him as well.
Myers, who would have turned 18 in August, is buried at the Santa Maria Cemetery.