A mother and son will spend the rest of their lives in prison after a jury found them guilty Friday of murdering 15-year-old Dystiny Myers.
The jury’s decision to convict Rhonda Maye Wisto, 49, and her 22-year-old son, Frank Jacob York, puts an end to a 2½-year legal battle that spawned thousands of court documents and cost San Luis Obispo County more than $1 million. For the victim’s survivors, it closed another chapter of a nightmare that began Sept. 26, 2010.
“I remember the day like yesterday when I was told (of Myers’ death),” Kathy Clark, the victim’s grandmother, said afterward. “I look at today as justice being served.”
The defendants will receive mandatory sentences of life without parole when they are formally sentenced May 8.
After roughly two weeks of testimony, the jury announced it had reached a verdict roughly 90 minutes after it began deliberating. Before a court clerk read the verdicts, three jurors glanced at Myers’ family, who sat in the front row. One female juror nodded her head toward Aileen Myers, the victim’s mother.
Myers’ mother, grandmother and aunts sat in the front row of the audience, with arms linked, as the verdicts were read. When it was announced that the defendants were guilty of all counts — first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, plus enhancements for kidnapping and torture — Aileen Myers trembled and cried. Wisto also cried, more when her convictions were announced than when her son’s were read. York closed his eyes before and after his verdicts were announced.
Afterward, jurors declined to comment, one saying the stress from the trial had been enough.
Three other defendants in the case — Ty Michael Hill of Santa Maria, Cody Lane Miller of Fresno and Jason Adam Greenwell of Nipomo — previously agreed to enter guilty pleas, avoiding trials.
While both physical and eyewitness testimony implicated York, the evidence wasn’t as abundant for Wisto, who ordered the murder, according to the prosecution. For that reason, when the verdicts were read, the family reacted more strongly to news of Wisto’s conviction.
“We honestly thought from the beginning that it wasn’t going to happen with her,” Clark said.
Wisto’s mother, who attended much of the trial, declined to comment afterward.
According to court testimony, Myers was a runaway who showed up at Wisto’s home with Hill. Covello said they don’t know for sure how Myers met Hill. But she wound up staying with Wisto, who operated a methamphetamine ring out of her home.
According to trial testimony, Wisto ordered the attack because Myers had been disrespectful to her. While York was reluctant to participate in the attack, his mother goaded him into it, Covello said.
“Every piece of evidence we had indicated that she had control of him,” Covello said. “In my opening statement I said it: She definitely took her son down this road. She destroyed his life as well as Dystiny’s.”
After Myers was beaten and bound, the male defendants transported her body to rural Santa Margarita. Her body was then dumped and set on fire.
As they were dumping her body, Hill and York turned on Miller, hitting him with shovels.
Briefly knocked down, Miller managed to flee. Fearing for his life, he later told law enforcement what had happened.
If Miller had been murdered, as Hill planned, finding the culprits would have been difficult, Covello said.
“The information he provided to the first responders, that set this entire investigation in action, is part of what led the Sheriff’s Department to get them so quickly,” Covello said.
Hill, Wisto, York and Greenwell were arrested later in the day. Miller was arrested the day after at a hospital, where he had been taken for his injuries.
While the trial featured difficult testimony about Myers’ injuries, it also exposed some inner workings of the local meth trade. Miller’s attorney, Gael Mueller, said her client never would have participated were it not for the drugs. York’s attorney, Gerald Carrasco, also argued that it was a factor in the case.
“It certainly fueled this one,” Covello said. “On the other hand, there are a lot of people who use methamphetamine who don’t commit this sort of crime.”