Judge considers multiple juries in Dystiny Myers case

Multiple juries might be chosen in the San Luis Obispo Superior Court trial against the five defendants accused of killing 15-year-old Dystiny Myers of Santa Maria nearly two years ago.

The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office has requested that three separate juries be selected to hear the case.

But Judge Barry LaBarbera said in court Monday that he wasn’t inclined to allow three, though he’s entertaining the idea of two juries.

LaBarbera selected a trial date of Jan. 28 to allow further testing of evidence by both sides and additional legal considerations, including the jury situation, to be worked out.

Myers’ body was found beaten and burned in Santa Margarita on Sept. 26, 2010.

A San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office investigation led to murder charges against five people: Ty Michael Hill of Santa Maria; Jason Adam Greenwell, Frank Jacob York and Rhonda Maye Wisto, all of Nipomo; and Cody Lane Miller of Fresno.

Though the reasoning wasn’t clarified in court Monday, multiple juries sometimes are used in cases with multiple defendants and statements made to investigators.

In a 1968 case called Bruton v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a defendant’s statements to investigators implicating an alleged co-conspirator can’t be used against that co-conspirator in the same trial if the defendant chooses not to testify.

That’s because the person implicated by the co-defendant has a constitutional right to confront the accusing witness with cross-examination.

In previous cases, multiple juries have been chosen to hear only the evidence that is admissible in a joint trial.

For example, in the high-profile Los Angeles murder case involving brothers Erik and Lyle Menendez in the 1990s, one jury was chosen to hear evidence admissible against one brother and the other jury heard only the evidence allowable against the other.

The juries then deliberated separately — one jury deciding the case against Erik Menendez and the other deciding on Lyle Menendez. They were charged with murdering their parents, and the first trial resulted in deadlocked juries for each; they were each convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in a second trial.

Having multiple juries can be complicated because a judge has to monitor when one jury needs to leave a courtroom during the testimony while the other stays.

Case background

Of the five defendants in the case, Hill is the only one facing the death penalty. A San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office investigator said that each of the five defendants was using methamphetamine around the time of the murder.

Hill also gave Myers a shot of what Greenwell believed to be heroin before she was attacked Sept. 26 in a bedroom in Wisto’s Nipomo home with blows, kicks and a baseball bat, according to the testimony of sheriff’s detective Robert Burgeson.

LaBarbera said he’d need to review the statements that the defendants made to investigators to decide what may be prejudicial against each individual.

The judge said he wasn’t prepared to make a ruling on the number of juries until he read those statements. LaBarbera asked prosecutors to supply him with the defendants’ statements, or preliminary hearing testimony that included Sheriff’s Office testimony about those statements, within a month.

But LaBarbera also expressed little patience at further rescheduling of the start of the trial, saying that “at this point, we’re delaying things ... let’s get this thing tried.”