Defending himself against charges he brutally murdered the mother of his teen lover, Steven Paul Colver testified Thursday that his then-14-year-old girlfriend collapsed into his arms holding a bloody kitchen knife, telling him, "I did it for us."
His much-anticipated testimony gave El Dorado County Superior Court jurors a starkly different account of the killing of Joanne M. Witt than what her daughter, Tylar Marie Witt, now 16, offered when she implicated Colver in court last week.
Wearing a black suit and speaking in a soft, even voice, Colver, 21, said he arrived at Joanne Witt's house late on the night of June 11, 2009, and the girl greeted him in the backyard "holding a knife in her hand" with blood on the knife and soaking her pant leg.
"I was shocked," said Colver, then 19 and known as "Boston." He testified that she said, "Boston, I did it. I finally did it. My mom is finally gone forever."
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Prosecutors maintain it was Colver who fatally stabbed Joanne Witt around midnight June 12 when her daughter let him in the house, hours after her mother had given police Tylar's diary as part of a statutory rape complaint against Colver.
Testifying in the case last week, Tylar Witt said Colver stabbed her mother to death while she herself lay collapsed outside the bedroom door. She described him emerging from her mother's bedroom holding a bloody chef's knife, taken from his restaurant job, with blood on his pants leg and face.
But Colver told jurors Thursday that it was Tylar who killed her mother, with a chef's knife taken from the butcher block in her home kitchen. He said he confessed to friends as he and Tylar were headed to San Francisco to commit suicide because, "I did not want it to come back to Tylar. I made a promise to protect her."
He testified about looking out for her before they were romantically involved, once putting Tylar up for the night at his father's house after she cried that "she got kicked out of the house, her mother was drinking" and she feared she would be beaten.
Tylar Witt has accepted a deal that would have her plead guilty to second-degree murder and in exchange be eligible for parole at age 29.
Defense lawyer Dain Weiner contends that the girl killed her mother during a psychological blackout after a personality she calls "Toby" and her "demon from hell" took over her being.
Colver said Thursday that Toby first appeared to him after Joanne Witt confronted them a month before her death over finding her daughter naked in a utility closet of the room Colver rented in her El Dorado Hills home. He said a sobbing Tylar Witt began hyperventilating and appeared to pass out – only to emerge with another persona "calm, relaxed and at peace."
"I was very confused," Colver said. "I said, 'Who are you? You're not the Tylar I know.' She said, 'My name is Toby.' I said, 'OK, you're Toby. What's going on?' She told me she was a demon that possessed Tylar's body and Tylar was too weak to be in control."
On cross-examination, prosecutor Lisette Suder presented Colver with a high school-era journal in which he wrote of wanting to kill himself and declared, "I want to leave – or kill someone."
She also pointed to an entry expressing a desire to "cut up some random person's arm and let them bleed out to the last breath."
"Is that what you did to Joanne?" she asked.
"Absolutely not," he answered.
"How long did it take for her to 'bleed out?' " Suder went on.
"I don't know. I wasn't there," Colver replied.
Earlier Thursday, a state criminologist testified that male DNA was found under the fingernails of Joanne Witt and in a bloody swipe above her leg.
California Department of Justice senior criminologist Deanna Kacer testified that the samples taken from Witt's body were insufficient to prove that the DNA was left by Colver.
On Thursday afternoon, Colver said he entered the room after Joanne Witt was dead and nudged her leg with his palm to see if she were still alive.
Authorities say the mother was stabbed at least 20 times. Crime scene and autopsy photos show a gaping, fatal wound on Witt's neck – nearly 5 inches long and more than 2 inches wide. The criminologist testified that the male DNA found beneath her fingertips resulted from direct contact consistent with a victim defending herself.
Suder peppered Colver with questions about an apparent fascination with knives, including a Japanese sword he kept in his car, and anime books depicting violence.
"You have urges to kill people, don't you?" she asked.
"Absolutely not," he said. "I would just as soon die rather than kill somebody else."