Seven firefighters had just responded to what was supposed to be a routine brush fire in rural Santa Margarita when an agitated stranger came out of the darkness, his cut face covered in blood.
“He said he’d been hiding in the bushes and he didn’t want to die and he needed help,” Emma Lauriston, a captain with Cal Fire, said during a Superior Court hearing on Monday. “And that’s why he came up to us.”
While the man didn’t initially make sense, Lauriston and other firefighters testified that he eventually started to tell them about the murder of Dystiny Myers.
In what amounted to a preview of an upcoming trial – rescheduled Monday to begin Feb. 4 -- multiple firefighters were called to testify in court in response to a motion by one of the men accused of killing Myers, the 15-year-old Santa Maria girl whose burned body was discovered on Sept. 26, 2010.
Five defendants have been charged in the case, including Ty Michael Hill, of Santa Maria, the lone defendant who will face the death penalty. It was Hill’s attorneys who objected to some evidence the prosecution intends to present at trial.
Specifically, Hill’s defense claims the bloodied man who approached firefighters, Cody Lane Miller, did not make a “spontaneous statement” – a voluntary statement free of influence from other people, considered legally more reliable in court -- when he told first responders what had happened.
Miller’s statements were the initial crack in the sensational case.
According to the firefighters, they responded to the grass fire around 5 a.m. Shortly after they arrived, a shirtless Miller appeared, and then collapsed.
Initially, testified seasonal firefighter Marshall Goodwin, Miller seemed to be saying “insane gibberish,” but he gradually started to make sense.
“When he was being treated, there were some comments made about a dead body,” Lauriston testified.
Ernie Landeros, a seasonal firefighter on the scene, said Miller, of Fresno, gave more details.
“He said that they had murdered a little girl and that’s what the fire was. And that they had forced him to carry the body.”
Stephanie Dininni, with Cal Fire, said Miller told them the group charged him with keeping Myers silent, so he put a sock in her mouth.
According to the first responders, Miller also detailed the following scene: After Myers was placed in a black duffle bag, Miller carried the girl, who was still breathing. At some point, he “chickened out,” causing the others to beat him with a shovel. Afterward, he ran away and hid.
As the first responders tried to treat him, they tried to get him to lie flat. Miller said he couldn’t because Hill had raped him.
According to previously filed court documents, the other defendants intended to kill Miller and bury him in the same pit they used for Myers’ body.
When Hill’s defense attorney Bill McLennan asked if the first responders questioned Miller about the murder, Dininni said they did because they needed to determine if Myers was still alive.
Other defendants in the case include Nipomo residents Jason Adam Greenwell, Frank Jacob York and York’s mother, Rhonda Maye Wisto.
Also In court Monday, Deputy District Attorney Tim Covello confirmed that Greenwell will enter a plea in exchange for his testimony.