A Nipomo woman accused of murdering a Santa Maria teen last year won’t face the death penalty if she’s convicted for her role in the girl’s grisly death.
The maximum sentence Rhonda Maye Wisto, 47, now faces if convicted of first-degree murder is life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Wisto smiled briefly during a trial-setting conference Thursday after learning that prosecutors won’t seek the death penalty if she’s found guilty in the slaying of Santa Maria teen Dystiny Myers.
The teen’s badly burned body was discovered Sept. 26, 2010, in a remote wooded area near Santa Margarita in northern San Luis Obispo County.
Myers, 15, died from mechanical asphyxiation and blunt-force trauma after she was allegedly drugged, beaten, duct-taped from head to toe and hog-tied at Wisto’s Nipomo home and had a glove shoved down her throat.
She also had toxic levels of methamphetamine in her system, which contributed to her death, according to an autopsy report.
Wisto has been charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping, torture and aiding-and-abetting for Myers’ murder. She has pleaded not guilty to all charges and remains in San Luis Obispo County Jail without bail.
During Thursday’s hearing, David Wells, Wisto’s court-appointed attorney, asked to be dismissed from the case, claiming he was too old to handle the case.
“Intellectually, I can handle the case, but I don’t have the energy for this stuff,” Wells told Judge Barry LaBarbera. “Even as the (district attorney), I would feel uncomfortable handling this case.”
Wells is a retired Los Angeles district attorney.
LaBarbera didn’t rule Thursday whether to release Wells from the case, and further proceedings are scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court, Department 2.
Wells also said that Wisto is receiving hate mail at the jail, and he would like the mail forwarded to him.
“It aggravates her,” Wells said. “(The letters) don’t rise to a level of terrorist threats, but there are innuendoes.”
LaBarbera said he wouldn’t make such a ruling and hoped that jail staff would filter out the hate mail and not deliver it to Wisto.
Also charged in the teen’s death are Wisto’s son, Frank Jacob York, 21; Nipomo resident Jason Adam Greenwell, 21; Ty Michael Hill, 28, of Santa Maria, as well as Fresno resident Cody Lane Miller, 20.
The four also have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, kidnapping, torture and aiding-and-abetting charges stemming from Myers’ murder, and remain in County Jail without bail.
LaBarbera also removed Hill’s court-appointed attorney Raymond Allen from the case Thursday over questions regarding his qualifications to handle a death penalty case.
Tim Covello, chief deputy district attorney, announced last month that a death sentence would be sought for Hill if he’s convicted of murdering Myers.
Santa Maria defense attorney Tom Allen was appointed as Hill’s lead counsel, although he requested to be named co-counsel because of a large case load and upcoming homicide trials in other counties. Allen asked that attorney William McLennan be named lead counsel.
The judge also didn’t rule on that request.
The District Attorney’s Office isn’t seeking death for York, Greenwell or Miller.