Forbidden young love ends with a mother's violent murder
As Steven Colver's murder trial finally gets under way, his attorney, Dain Weiner, is ready and eager to argue that the wrong person is on trial.
"He doesn't have a violent bone in his body," said Weiner.
But Tylar Witt, Colver's former lover and self-confessed accomplice in the planning of her mother's murder, tells prosecutors a different story. She outlines her gruesome version of the killing. She says she let Steven into the house and that he was armed with a chef's knife.
"...Tylar went to the kitchen, got out her own knife...and the two walked very quietly up the stairs..." said prosecutor Lisette Suder.
It was late at night and Joanne was asleep.
"They turn into Joanne's room. He walks ahead, and just as he enters in, Tylar sees him making practice motions as he's heading towards the bed," Suder continued. "At that point, Tylar fell to the fetal position...right there at the opening of the door, covered her ears...He began to stab Joanne..."
Prosecutors believe her testimony, saying it is corroborated by other evidence. Tylar's lawyer, Mark Ralphs, also says she passed a polygraph test, helping to prove she did not stab her mother.
"Who decided that Joanne Witt had to die?" Schlesinger asked Marks.
"Well, Tylar...indicated she could not remember whether it was initially her idea or...Steven's idea," he replied.
"She couldn't remember? How do you not remember whose idea it is to kill your mother?"
"I don't know," Marks said. "...it had been more than two years..."
"But counselor, it's the murder of her mother."
But Tylar has other credibility problems. One psychologist called her sociopathic. And on the stand, she testified she has two super beings living inside her: An angel named Alex and a demon named Toby. The demon, she says, takes control of her in times of stress.
"...I think that has a great significance," Weiner said. "It gives a whole other personality, an aggressive, violent personality inside Tylar..."
"It had nothing to do with the murder," Suder said. "It's simply a defense attorney asking questions, trying to show flaws in Tylar's character."
And if jurors have trouble with Tylar, prosecutors have DNA evidence to offer. It was found on Joanne's body and under her fingernails.
"...when there is DNA under the fingernails, with the defensive wounds...it is very likely that the DNA comes from Joanne trying to fight her attacker," explained Suder.
There was not enough DNA to identify anyone, but there was enough to prove it came from a male.
"It really narrows it," Suder said. "...Steven Colver's a male. There's only one male we're looking at."
Steven Colver's trial lasted four weeks, but it took jurors took less than four hours to reach a verdict.
What does it mean that it went so quickly? It depends whose side you're on.
"I think that's not a good sign," said Dain Weiner. "I've always been of the opinion that the longer they take, the better..."
Weiner believes his young client is moments away from becoming a convicted murderer.
"You braced your client for that?" Schlesinger asked Weiner.
"We discussed it... It's a tense moment...a tense moment..." Weiner said of waiting for the verdict.
Steven Colver, quietly sobbing at the defense table, is understandably shaken by the verdict: Guilty. He will end up in prison for the rest of his life.
For reasons they would not discuss, prosecutors decided not to ask for the death penalty.
His mother, Jan, is still convinced he's innocent.
"...I just felt the air leave my lungs," she said. "I just wanted somebody to wake me up from the nightmare."
For a crime this brutal, the judge has no other choice: "The defendant shall be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole."
Tylar Witt -- the girl Steven Colver planned to spend eternity with -- gets her reward for testifying against him. She's allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder and gets 15 years to life.
"Are you doing it freely, voluntarily, 'cause it's what you want to do?" Suder asked Tyler in court.
"Yes," she replied.
"This was a brutal murder," the judge said addressing Tylar. "The court has seen no emotion or even remorse for the loss of your mother...I'm sorry for you, Miss Witt, because the person who loved you most in this world and without reservation is gone."
There is enough heartbreak in this case to go around. And the last great tragedy is that it all started because of a stupid miscalculation. Lisette Suder says Tylar and Steven murdered Joanne Witt because they feared he would be imprisoned for a long time for committing statutory rape.
"It would have been a misdemeanor and the maximum that he could have received was a year in the County Jail. Reality is he probably wouldn't have gotten any jail time," Suder told Schlesinger.
"Really? So these kids thought it was the end of the world and..."
"And it really wasn't"
But it is now the end of the free world for Steven Colver. It's the outcome Norb and Judi Witt hoped for. Of course, there's no satisfaction... no sense of victory for two people who lost a daughter and a granddaughter.
"I really wonder how we've gotten through it. I really, really do," Judi said. "You just know that you can give up or you keep going."
"What's your choice?" added Norb.
Life has gone on for the Witts. And Norb, who once turned his back on Tylar, has now started to soften on the subject of his now 17-year-old granddaughter.
"You look at this little girl and then you look at the person that she is now. Do you wonder what happened to this little girl who you used to bounce around on your knee?"
"Yes! Of course," Norb replied. "All the time," said Judi.
For years, Norb could not bring himself to see Tylar. But finally, after the trial, he did.
"You heard the clanking of metal doors and then the door opened and she came in very meekly...and said, 'Hi Pappa.' She came over and hugged me and started sobbing," said Norb.
Asked if he cried, Norb said, "I don't remember. But I held her pretty tight. ...We just talked and I see some remorse."
It is not easy to reconnect. And Norb isn't sure, after everything that has happened, how close he can be to his granddaughter who helped murder his daughter.
"Have you forgiven her?" Schlesinger asked.
"No, I haven't forgiven her at this point," Norb replied.
"Do you want to?"
"I don't know. Probably deep inside I do, but I don't know if it's possible...I don't know...I really don't know. And I don't think Judi does either."
Tylar Witt is not eligible for parole until 2024; She will be 29 years old.
Steven Colver is appealing his conviction.
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