Joanne Witt, a 47-year-old single mother, was stabbed to death in her own El Dorado Hills home on the evening of June 11, 2009.
That much is certain.
Details of the gruesome killing, though, differ, depending on who’s talking.
Opening statements in the murder trial of Steven Paul Colver were delivered Tuesday morning inside a packed El Dorado County courtroom, nearly two years after the killing made national headlines.
Colver, 21, is accused of the first-degree murder of Witt, the mother of his former lover, 15-year-old Tylar Marie Witt.
Deputy district attorney Lisette Suder delivered a 45 minute opening, during which she described the “forbidden love affair” between Colver and Tylar, one that, in her words, drove the defendant to a “sadistic” murder of Joanne Witt.
At around midnight on June 11, 2009, Colver and Tylar crept into Joanne Witt’s bedroom, both armed with knives, with the intent of killing her, Suder said.
“Steven Colver knew Joanne Witt was the only person who stood between his lover and himself,” Suder told jurors.
When Tylar saw her boyfriend raise his knife, she dropped hers and collapsed into a fetal position, leaving Colver to carry out the execution, according to the attorney.
Suder told jurors that Joanne Witt was stabbed more than 20 times. One stab wound was so severe, she said, that Joanne’s throat appeared slashed.
But during his opening statement, defense attorney Dain Weiner told jurors that Colver had nothing to do with the killing.
“It was a brutal, vicious murder but it was not committed by Steven Colver — it was committed by (Joanne’s) daughter, Tylar,” Weiner said.
Colver was so smitten with Tylar that he went along with her plans, even going so far as to tell mutual friends that he killed Joanne Witt.
“That was a lie — a lie he told to protect Tylar Witt,” said Weiner. “He took responsibility for an act he did not commit.”
Weiner painted Tylar Witt as the mastermind behind her mother’s death, calling her an “accomplished liar” who had already perjured herself during pre-trial testimony.
Reading from the girl’s journal, Weiner expressed Tylar’s hope that Joanne would suffer a violent death.
In fact, the attorney said Tylar had threatened her mother with a knife weeks before Joanne learned the true nature of her and Colver’s relationship.
Suder described the elder Witt as a loving, single mother who did her best to provide for her daughter.
The attorney acknowledged “bumps” in the mother/daughter relationship, citing an incident during which Tylar, then 5, was taken away from Joanne by Child Protective Services after being struck in the face by her parent.
Suder also painted Colver as a dark individual obsessed with “anime, blood, death and gore” who also had a “fetish with knives,” whereas Weiner told jurors his client was a hardworking, helpful young man who wanted to be a math teacher.
Colver was described by Suder as a negative influence on Tylar, who had just entered high school when they first met, noting that her grades fell, her style of dress became much darker and she began using drugs.
Weiner, though, said Colver did his best to help Tylar with her schoolwork and provided a welcomed relief from the “turmoil” of her home life.
But Colver was allowed to move into the Witt residence, as the relationship was kept hidden from Joanne, who was told Colver was gay.
Joanne soon learned the truth, though, after finding her naked daughter hiding in Colver’s closet one afternoon.
Suder said Joanne threatened to report Colver to authorities for statutory rape unless he moved out and agreed to leave Tylar alone.
Tylar Witt denied having a sexual relationship with Colver, both to her mother and detectives. But then she learned that Joanne had turned over a journal detailing the youth’s romance.
Upon learning this, Tylar became enraged, according to Suder.
Both attorneys said the youths developed a suicide pact after Joanne’s death. They fled to San Francisco and committed an unsuccessful suicide attempt by ingesting rat poison.
The couple was found by San Bruno police on June 17, 2009.
Colver, who Tuesday was dressed in a black suit with a black and gray tie, appeared to pay attention to Suder’s opening and did not shy away from looking at the slides projected onto a screen for jurors.
Tylar Witt was not present Tuesday. She has already pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of her mother. She is facing a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.
Suder told jurors Tylar would in fact testify during the trial.
If she fulfills her plea deal with prosecutors, her sentence will be reduced to a second-degree murder conviction, trimming her sentence to 15 years to life.