Crime - Sacto 911

Anger, sorrow punctuate couple's sentencing for murder

Michael Witt, the brother of an El Dorado Hills woman savagely murdered with the help of her own daughter, knew the outcome to be announced in a Placerville courtroom Friday. He knew Steven Paul Colver, 21, was going to be sent to prison forever.

He knew his niece, Tylar Marie Witt, 16, was taking a plea deal for 15 years to life.

But Michael Witt was the family member who had to clean the gruesome aftermath of his sister's bedroom after she had been stabbed 20 times. He's still haunted by the crime photos of the gaping wounds that took the life of Joanne M. Witt, the brilliant, educated woman who loved cooking, the outdoors and her rebellious teenage daughter.

So he let loose. Calling Colver a "psychotic SOB" and ignoring admonitions from the judge to stop, Michael Witt described in graphic detail the violence he wanted visited upon the young man in prison.

"I hope and desire that Mr. Colver experiences the worst possible experiences our wonderful prison system can bestow upon him," he said.

It was an angry culmination to a sensational murder case, in which Colver and Tylar Witt, then 19 and 14, respectively, orchestrated Joanne Witt's killing in June 2009 after she reported Colver to authorities for statutory rape.

On Friday in El Dorado Superior Court, as Michael Witt was making his emotions felt, Judge Daniel B. Proud acknowledged the presence of Colver's mother, father and brother – three people also traumatized by the crime.

"I empathize with your feelings," Proud told Michael Witt. "But there are other victims in this case."

Yet, in imposing sentence on Colver, the judge took into account the extreme violence of the crime and had "no reservations" about sending him to a mandatory term of life in prison without parole for his conviction of first-degree murder and special circumstances of lying in wait and killing a witness.

Moments later, after Colver was led away in chains from the defense table he had shared with Tylar Witt, Proud turned to the girl. He told her she had deprived her family of a mother "who dedicated her life to you."

"Joanne Witt loved her daughter. She was a protective and caring mother. She tried her best. I'm sorry Ms. Witt because the person who loved you more than anyone in the world, without reservation, is gone."

Tylar Witt testified during trial that the teens had ascended the stairs of the home she shared with her mother to commit the killing together – Colver with a chef's knife from his restaurant job and she with a kitchen knife from the house.

But after Colver entered the bedroom, she said she collapsed outside the door and, "I put my hands on my ear, closed my eyes and hummed," as her mother was slain.

The girl also testified that she was possessed by three spirits: "a demon from hell" named Toby, "Alex," her inner angel and Tylar herself, a troubled 14-year-old girl. Her calm demeanor in describing the plot was assailed by Colver's lawyer, Dain Weiner, who argued that the girl – not his client – had killed Joanne Witt.

Neither Colver nor Tylar Witt spoke at the sentencing. But the girl's attorney, Mark Ralph, said she was consumed by grief over the events and once wrote a note in court, "I miss you, Mother." He said the only reason her emotions didn't show was because she was on mood-stabilizing medication during the trial.

Weiner said Colver felt remorse over the killing.

Outside the courtroom, Colver's mother, Jan, said: "We believe in Steven. We stand behind him. We will be seeking an appeal."

Norbert Witt, the father of Joanne Witt and Tylar's grandfather, delivered separate sentencing speeches – an angry one directed at Colver and a sad, dismayed one directed at his granddaughter.

"Steven Colver not only took the life of our daughter, but he also destroyed the life of our granddaughter," he said.

He said Colver introduced a young girl "to heavy narcotics and sex" and then carried out the brutal killing of her mother.

Turning to his granddaughter, he spoke of a single mother who took her daughter on trips to Disneyland, horseback riding and introduced her to music and acting.

"Tylar, she dedicated her life to you," he said. "She spent most of her income on you. More than once she ended a potentially long-term relationship for you. Tylar, you never appreciated what she did for you."

He added: "You are a murderer. You and your boyfriend executed a vicious, senseless murder."

An El Dorado County juvenile hall official testified before the sentencing that Tylar had earned her high school diploma, completing three years of schoolwork in 18 months of custody.

While her grandfather urged her to go to college and "someday make a contribution to society" – she will be eligible for parole at 29 – another brother of Joanne Witt, Stephen, didn't temper his feeling about "a selfish, manipulative girl who could not bear to hide her contempt for her mother."

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