After Dystiny Myers was murdered, Rhonda Maye Wisto allegedly told her son, “You’ve earned your red laces” — gang jargon for committing violence, a prosecutor said Friday.
Opening statements in the murder trial of Wisto and her son, Frank Jacob York, are set to begin Monday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court. During a hearing on motions Friday, Assistant District Attorney Tim Covello said the two defendants were associated with multiple gangs. Some of the initial five defendants in the case, he added, were members of skinhead white-power groups.
Wisto and York, both of Nipomo, are the only two defendants going to trial for murder and conspiracy. Three other defendants — Ty Michael Hill, Jason Adam Greenwell and Cody Lane Miller — previously agreed to enter guilty pleas.
While there are no gang allegations in this case, Covello said the group acted like a gang, intending to commit crimes. Covello said Myers, of Santa Maria, was murdered in September 2010 because Wisto thought the teenager knew too much about their illegal activities and because she felt Myers had shown her disrespect.
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“Respect is a really big deal to Rhonda Wisto,” he said, noting that it also is a gang value.
Letters that Wisto wrote, Covello said, contain gang jargon and often end with the phrase, “much respect.”
In letter exchanges, Covello said, Wisto demands and gets respect from gang members.
Those letters can be introduced to jurors, as they show motive and mindset, Superior Court Judge Barry LaBarbera said.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, “earning red laces” is a phrase used by skinheads. Gang members wear red laces in their boots, according to the center, after committing a violent crime that draws blood.
Letters written by York will also be admitted, LaBarbera ruled, including one in which he expressed anger at his mother for getting him involved in the alleged crime.
During the hearing, defense attorneys argued that two autopsy photos the prosecution plans to show jurors would be prejudicial. But Covello said the photos help corroborate statements by the other participants that detail how Myers was murdered.
“They go to malice and intent — and torture as well,” he said.
The photos — “the least graphic that we could find,” Covello said — show how Myers was tied up with a glove in her mouth and stuffed in a duffle bag. They also show the three skull fractures she suffered, severe binding of the forearms and the “brutal beating of the legs of the victim,” Covello said.
“These are obviously pretty graphic,” LaBarbera said, but he will allow limited use of them during the trial.