A mother and son charged with murdering a 15-year-old Santa Maria girl sat at opposite ends of a defense table Tuesday, as more than 100 prospective jurors poured into a San Luis Obispo County courtroom.
Attorneys began questioning the juror candidates in the trial of Rhonda Wisto and Jacob York, who were among the five defendants charged with killing Dystiny Myers in September 2011.
Three defendants have agreed to guilty pleas, leaving the York and Wisto to stand trial in a case that has received considerable pretrial publicity.
While the would-be jurors had already filled out hardship questionnaires last week, Superior Court Judge Barry LaBarbera asked again if they had hardships, and several said they did.
Some had health issues — one man said he had restless leg syndrome, while a woman said she had irritable bowel syndrome. One man said he had a newborn baby he needed to care for, and a student said she would have to drop classes, causing her to lose financial aid, if she had to be on a jury for a month.
They, and a few others, were dismissed.
When asked if they could consider the evidence fairly, one man said he had read about the case and had formed negative opinions about the defendants.
“I don’t think I could change my mind,” he said. ”It became a very emotional case for me while I was reading it.”
After LaBarbera dismissed him, the man apologized to a bailiff as he left the courtroom.
One woman said her daughter had once been abducted by a sexual predator, while another expressed concern because she has a daughter the same age as Myers.
“I have those motherly feelings for my daughter,” she said.
One male juror said he was a witness in the trial of Richard Allen Davis, who received the death penalty for the 1993 abduction and strangulation of 12-year-old Polly Klaas in Petaluma.
The man said he was a teacher at CMC when Davis, one of his students, was serving time there on a previous kidnapping offense.
York and Wisto, both dressed in civilian clothes instead of the orange jumpsuits they’ve been wearing to court, didn’t look at each other. Wisto sat much closer to prosecutor Tim Covello than her son.
They both face charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder with enhancements for kidnapping and torture. They face possible life sentences if found guilty.
During his questioning, Covello told jurors, “In this case, you’re going to hear a lot about methamphetamines.”
The defendants were reportedly high on meth when they killed Myers, whose partially burned body was found in Santa Margarita.
Jury selection will continue the rest of this week. Attorneys are expected to begin offering opening statements Monday.