It was a sordid killing of a single mother, an intelligent woman with master's degree in metallurgy, a gift for gourmet cooking and a turbulent relationship with her 14-year-old daughter.
The trial opened Tuesday in El Dorado Superior Court in the June 2009 slaying of Joanne M. Witt as a prosecutor and defense attorney agreed on only one thing: She died a savage death, stabbed repeatedly in her bed.
Defendant Steven Paul Colver, 21, who friends said had a fascination with Japanese anime and dreamed of becoming a math teacher, looked on as prosecutor Lisette Suder also characterized him "as a man with a fetish for knives, blood, death and gore." She said he became a killer, slaying Joanne Witt in her gated El Dorado Hills home because she filed a statutory rape complaint against him over his relationship with her daughter, Tylar Marie Witt.
Authorities say Tylar Witt was a lovestruck, angry girl who summoned her then-19-year-old boyfriend to kill her mother. Now 16, Witt is scheduled to testify for the prosecution after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in a deal that can make her eligible for parole at 29.
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"This is a case about a 19-year-old man and a 14 year-old girl and their forbidden love affair and their violent plan to the point of sadistic murder of her mother," Suder said in her opening statement.
She said Colver, armed with a butcher knife from his restaurant job, and Witt, with a kitchen knife from home, ascended the stairs to the mother's room shortly after midnight June 12. But she said the girl collapsed into a fetal position as Colver practiced stabbing motions outside the bedroom.
Colver, nicknamed "Boston," Tuesday looked on in a black suit and wire-rimmed glasses in the Placerville courtroom as Suder said he entered the room alone, slashing 47-year-old Joanne Witt even as she woke and fought back, shouting her last words: "No, Boston, No!"
Dain Weiner, Colver's attorney, said it was Tylar Witt who killed her mother. He claimed that Colver, called to the house after the fact, placed a blanket over Joanne Witt's body. Later he told friends he that committed the crime, Weiner said.
"It was a brutal, vicious murder, but it was not committed by Stephen Colver; it was committed by her daughter, Tylar," Weiner said.
He said when Colver arrived at the house the girl had a "knife in her hand covered with blood" and "she told him that she had killed her mother."
Tylar Witt had threatened her mother with a knife a little more than a month before the killing, Weiner said.
Joanne Witt agreed to rent Colver a room in her house in April 2009 for $500 a month after her daughter said he needed a place to stay and Colver described himself as a platonic "big brother" to Tylar and gay.
But Witt threw him out after finding her daughter undressed in a utility closet in his room. She later filed a statutory rape complaint with the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office after their relationship continued.
"My mother is driving me insane. I can't stand her company for more than five minutes. I hate her," a detective read in court Tuesday from Witt's journal. "She is bipolarly (sic) insane and is turning me into the same thing. I just wish she would die, somehow, some way and leave me the (expletive) alone."
Joanne Witt's father, Norbert Witt, testified about a relationship between mother and daughter that was both tortured and tender.
He described Joanne Witt as an independent woman who raised her daughter alone, providing lessons in piano, violin and dance and taking her daughter skiing and horseback riding.
But Norbert Witt said he took care of Tylar for two years after his daughter was reported to child welfare officials for slapping the then-5-year-old girl. He said Tylar ran away multiple times.
Vincent Catapano, a close friend and colleague of Joanne Witt, testified that Joanne once showed up at work with a facial bruise she blamed on her daughter. Shortly before the killing, he said, Joanne Witt told him that her daughter had said "I wish you were dead" for giving police the teen's journal, which detailed a sexual relationship with Colver.
Suder said Tylar Witt called Colver at his job on June 11, 2009, after detectives showed up at the family home. Suder said Colver, agitated, went outside the restaurant and vomited. He later texted a friend, declaring that Joanne Witt "is the one continuing to destroy my life."
Prosecutors say Colver, who faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of murdering Joanne Witt, later wrote in a journal that that he would "travel through the pits of hell" and "take the life of another" to have Tylar Witt.
"I loved Tylar Goddess Marie Witt with all my heart," read one entry. "I would bear eternal damnation just to be with her."
The girl penned a story, "The Killer and his Raven," set in medieval times about teens who freed themselves from an oppressive mother who revealed the girl's diary.
"That is when their dreams shattered," the Raven story reads. "That is when their hope vanished, and that is when this man, this 19-year-old man, became a killer."
Joanne Witt's body was found in her home June 15 after co-workers at the El Dorado County Department of Transportation, where she worked in the engineering unit, reported her missing.
Soder said Witt and Colver, who had come to wear black goth-style clothing, dyed their hair black and told friends they were fleeing to the Bay Area in a suicide pact. She said Colver reached into his truck and pulled out a bloody knife to show one friend.
Weiner said it was a deliberate gesture of love by a young man "to take responsibility for an act he did not commit."
The pair reached a Holiday Inn in San Francisco, where they ate Froot Loops with rat poison. But the suicide attempt failed. After days on the run, the teens were arrested outside a San Bruno cellphone store June 17. Suder said Colver's suicide note arrived in the mail at a friend's house.
"Our sins are unforgivable for so many," he wrote. "So we will be waiting in the afterlife."