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Steven Colver and Tylar Witt

Tylar Witt
Tylar Witt
When Steven Colver met Tylar Witt at the Habit coffee shop in January 2009, they were just two goth kids in a clique that frequented the Town Center shops in the upscale city of El Dorado Hills, Calif. He was nineteen and she was fourteen, but they had much in common. They both dressed in the "emo" fashion of black, baggy clothes, and shared a love of anime, Japanese cartoon sagas of supernatural loves and violent deaths. Neither could have suspected that they would soon create a macabre tale of their own to rival any comic book.

Tylar was a freshman at local Oak Ridge High School, from which Colver had recently graduated. The only daughter of a single mother, Tylar had started to act out as she entered her teen years, fighting with her mother Joanne. Tylar had already run away a few times, and as a young child had once been taken out of her mother's custody by authorities. Tylar had also begun cutting herself and whiling away long hours on her MySpace account.

Colver had continued his schooling at nearby Folsom Lake College and worked six days a week at a Rubio's restaurant in Folsom, the next town over from El Dorado Hills. Colver hoped to become a math teacher after college. His friends called him "Boston", a nickname that had stuck even after overcoming a childhood speech impediment that made him sound like he was from Massachusetts.

Colver and Witt began to hang out together in Town Center virtually every weekend, and the friendship started to evolve. They spoke on the phone constantly; Steven became a mentor to Tylar, someone in whom she could confide about her combustible relationship with her mother, stoked in part by Joanne's drinking. In March 2009, the connection between Colver and Witt turned physical. He was the first boy with whom she'd ever slept, and their relationship was passionate, as teen love can be. "We will love each other past death," Tylar wrote in her diary, "I know I will never stop loving him."

Colver Moves In
Steven Colver
Steven Colver
When Steven Colver's father decided to sell his house and move out of state, Colver needed to find a new place to live. Coincidentally, Joanne Witt was looking to take in a boarder in her home, and Tylar eagerly suggested her friend Steven rent the bedroom. Joanne had no inkling that Steven and Tylar were romantically involved. Tylar had told her mother that Steven was gay (and he had previously been in a relationship with his friend Matthew Widman). Joanne, who had already met Colver a few times and got along with him, agreed to her daughter's plan. So in April 2009, Colver moved into the Witt home on 223 Tattinger Court, paying a rent of $500 per month.

For a time, the arrangement worked swimmingly. Colver proved a calming influence in the home. The trio split chores and ate dinners together when schedules permitted. Colver even e-mailed Tylar's math teacher (who also taught Steven at Oak Ridge) to get her assignments so he could help tutor her. All the while, the teens' romance continued. They would steal kisses when Joanne wasn't looking; when she was out of the house, they would do even more ... until two fateful days in May.

Caught Naked
On May 13, 2009, Joanne walked into the unfinished HVAC room adjacent to Colver's bedroom and found a bottle of sexual lubricant, sex toys and a few jars of marijuana and drug paraphernalia which upset her. Steven had been a pot smoker for years. Tylar had indulged as well, but Joanne didn't know that when she confronted Steven. Colver remained calm and made smooth excuses: He was simply holding the drugs for a friend, and did not mention the sex aids were used with Tylar. Ultimately, Joanne opted not to kick him out of the house.

But the next day, Joanne found something far less forgivable. Having come home unexpectedly, Joanne looked for Tylar in her room, but the young teen wasn't there. Joanne then walked over to Steven's room and knocked on the door. She heard shuffling, and he wouldn't open the door right away — when he did finally come to the door he was wearing only pants. Sensing something amiss, Joanne checked Colver's closet and the adjacent unfinished HVAC room, where she found Tylar naked, holding a yellow sports bra against her chest. The discovery that her 14-year-old daughter was having sex with her 19-year-old boarder shocked Joanne. She didn't know what to do.

Later that afternoon, Joanne Witt asked Steven Colver to take a ride with her. They drove to a nearby park to talk. Steven admitted that his relationship with Tylar had turned physical and that he knew it was both illegal and wrong. Anxious to put the matter behind the family, Joanne agreed that she would not call police if Colver stopped seeing her daughter and moved out of the house immediately. Wanting to avoid the scandal and statutory rape charges, Colver readily agreed.

The next day, May 15, 2009, Joanne asked Vincent Catapano and Thor Larsen, two friends from her job at the Department of Transportation, to come lend moral support when Colver came by to pick up his belongings. Catapano and Larsen had a stern conversation with Colver about his illicit relationship with Tylar and the damage he had done to the Witt family. Colver stood there emotionless, answering only with a polite "Yes, sir."

Betrayal and Lies
Just a few days later, the truce between Joanne Witt and Steven Colver was broken when Tylar seemingly went missing and did not answer her mother's phone calls. Joanne called the police and reported Colver's exploits with her daughter. But Tylar wasn't with Colver that night. She had simply been visiting a friend's house out of cell phone range, but the Sheriff's deputies investigated nonetheless.

When the authorities confronted Tylar about her mother's allegations, the young girl lied directly to the detectives. She told them that Colver was simply a "big brother" figure to her, and that she was naked in the HVAC closet off Colver's room because she was asking his opinion about outfits she'd been trying on. Police called Colver at his job behind the counter at Rubio's and heard substantially the same story. Colver backed up Tylar's assertion that she was simply trying on a dress for him and didn't want to walk back to her room to change. Colver admitted that he and Tylar were fond of each other, but insisted those feelings had never turned physical. With no direct evidence and two flat denials from the parties involved, the statutory rape investigation was at a stand-still.

Even with Colver out of the house, the mother-daughter bond between the Witts was fraying. Tylar was heartbroken and continued to call Colver all the time as she increasingly acted out against Joanne. By the first week of June, Joanne had found and read through her daughter's diary. Tylar Witt was a terribly descriptive writer when discussing her intimacies with Colver, noting sexual positions and lack of birth control use, and also expressed the couple's emotions: "We have decided to call each other fiancé, so when we get married we can say we've been engaged for 5 years." Tylar also wrote about her tumultuous conflict with her mother: "My mother is driving me insane. I can't stand her company for more than five minutes. I hate her." And she detailed elaborate fantasies about Joanne dying in a car accident.

Joanne faced a dilemma. She was armed with evidence of her daughter's sexual liaisons, but didn't want to share the diary with police because it included personal information about her daughter's inner life that had nothing to do with Colver. Finally, Joanne decided she would have police talk to Tylar again, but, if she still refused to tell the truth, she would then hand over the girl's journal. On June 10, 2009, El Dorado Sheriff's Deputy Ken Barber visited the Witt home to take Tylar's statement. When Tylar stuck to her innocent explanation once more, Joanne gave Barber the diary.

When Tylar found out Joanne had given police her diary, she was distraught. She called Steven several times at work until he drove to her home. They allegedly discussed taking a page from the script of star-crossed young lovers Romeo and Juliet, running away to San Francisco and commit suicide together.

On the evening of June 11, 2009, the two exchanged several phone calls, Tylar giving Steven status reports about Joanne, how she was drinking that night and if she was still awake. A little before midnight, Steven Colver met Tylar at the house. Joanne Witt was asleep in her bedroom. Nobody would see her alive again.

A little after midnight, Steven and Tylar left the Witt home for the last time. They had to stock up for their journey to San Francisco.

It was the morning of June 12, 2009, and Joanne Witt was never going to come between Steven Colver and Tylar Witt again. After leaving the Witt home, the couple drove to Richard Colver's empty house where they showered and used the fireplace to burn the clothes they had been wearing. Then they headed over to Town Center where they grabbed a few hours sleep in the parking lot of the local library. When they awoke, up they grabbed drinks at the Starbucks in Safeway, bought food at the 99 Cents Store, and stopped at Home Depot to buy D-Con rat poison. Their immediate plan was simple: spend their last day in El Dorado Hills with friends before driving to San Francisco for the weekend, capped off by a Shakespearean dual suicide by eating sweets laced with rat poison.

With their shopping finished for the time being, they called their friend Matt Widman and drove over to his house where Colver and Witt dyed their hair black in Widman's bathroom while their host finished his chores. Then they journeyed back to Town Center to hang out with friends and buy some other supplies for the weekend: marijuana, cocaine, and Ecstasy. Later, back at Colver's empty house, Steven and Tylar cooked some ramen noodles while mulling whether or not they should tell their good friend Matt what had happened the night before.

After a line of cocaine, Colver felt Widman was ready to hear the news. Steven explained the reason Joanne Witt hadn't been calling after Tylar all day: It was because he had stabbed her to death the night before, and he brought the bloody knife in from the car to prove it. Widman was surprised but nonplussed. The whole party was shocked shortly after when Colver's dad came home unexpectedly. Steven quickly hid the drugs and the knife as Tylar and Matt slunk out to the car. By now it was 10 p.m. Friday night: the couple brought Widman back to his house and then left for San Francisco.

Tylar Cuts a Deal
Once Widman turned over the package from Colver and Witt along with his account of the confession, the evidence against the couple was pretty clear-cut. Among the writings, investigators found was a story written by Tylar entitled "The Killer and his Raven" in which a young man and his beloved were stymied by the teen girl's mother. The story's climax is the couple's murder of the meddling mom: "at round one in the morning the girl snuck the boy into her house. He stabbed her in her sleep, killing her and freeing themselves." A final letter from Colver to his friends apologized for the "sinful escape" and admitted "Our souls are tainted ... We shall be awaiting our fate in the afterworld."

After an El Dorado County court ruled that Tylar Witt would stand trial as an adult, not a juvenile, she cut a deal with prosecutors. Tylar would plead guilty to first-degree murder and agree to testify against Steven Colver. If prosecutors believed her testimony was truthful, her charge would be reduced to second-degree murder. That reduction in charge would mean the difference between parole eligibility in 15 rather than 25 years.

Now prosecutors were left with one focus: the conviction of Steven Colver. With the evidence and testimony of a conspirator, it might not have looked like a difficult job. But nothing in court is ever easy, and there were unexpected twists to come.

On May 17, 2011, in the old El Dorado County Courthouse in Placerville, Calif., a packed courtroom gathered for opening statements. Prosecutor Lisette Suder told the jury they would hear a case about a "19-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl and their love affair" that led to the "violent almost to the point of sadistic murder of her mother." All of the evidence and admissions pointed to Steven Colver as the person who "violently and maliciously stabbed" Joanne Witt to get rid of the key witness in the statutory rape case against him.

Colver's defense attorney Dain Weiner painted an entirely different version of the murder in his opening statement. In the defense's telling, Tylar was the temptress and mastermind behind the death of her mother. When Colver arrived at the Witt home that night, Weiner said, Tylar held a knife dripping with blood and admitted to Colver that she had killed Joanne. Colver then covered up the body with a blanket and later told their friends that he had done the stabbing in order to protect Tylar. Moreover, Tylar's diary betrayed the murderous feelings she had for her mother, and the jury would hear several of the girl's friends recount Tylar saying she wanted her mother dead. Weiner pointed out that the couple's intention was a joint suicide, so killing Joanne Witt was unnecessary.

Tylar Testifies
When the prosecution called Tylar Witt to the stand there wasn't an empty seat in the gallery. Now 16, Tylar seemed younger and more wholesome than expected. Shackled and serene, she absent-mindedly played with her long brown hair as she politely answered questions from the prosecutor. Tylar outlined the plan to kill her mother (so that she couldn't call police when the couple fled to San Francisco), how she tried to drug Joanne's drink with vitamins (there was no valium left in her mother's cabinet), and how Steven arrived at the house with a 10-inch chef's knife taken from Rubio's. She said they ascended the stairs to Joanne's bedroom together, but when she saw Colver taking a few practice chops at the air, she buckled: "I couldn't do it. I couldn't go inside." As she slumped in the hallway, she "put my hands on my ears, closed my eyes and hummed" to drown out the sounds of the murder in the next room.

The defense began its cross examination by having Tylar recount years of physical altercations with her mother and her various attempts at running away. But it was a simple question, "Who is Toby?" that threatened to break the case. Tylar explained that Toby was a demon from hell that lived inside her. And that Alex, an angel, lived in her as well: "Three souls crowded in one body," Tylar stated matter-of-factly. In times of stress, Tylar recounted, she would black out and Toby would take over to "deal with whatever was stressing me out." Was Toby to blame for the murder of Joanne Witt?

Steven Testifies
By all accounts, Steven Colver was a polite young man. When he took the stand in his own defense, his close-cropped hair, wire-rimmed glasses, and calm demeanor fit that description perfectly. And it was with a cool and measured delivery that Colver told the jury his version of the night Joanne Witt died. He said that when he arrived at Tylar's home that night, her clothes were stained red and she held a bloody knife in her hand. "I did it for us," Colver recalled her saying, "I did it. I finally did it. Mom is gone forever."

Colver said his first meeting with Tylar's alter-ego Toby occurred a few weeks earlier when Joanne had found out about the sexual relationship. Tylar had hyperventilated and collapsed from the strain — she awoke as suddenly as she'd passed out, but she seemed different. According to Colver, "She told me that she was a demon that possessed Tylar's body, and Tylar was too weak to be in control."

On cross-examination, the State went on the attack, forcing Colver to admit to a fascination with knives and that he owned many varieties of swords. Prosecutors asked whether the motive to kill Joanne Witt was stronger for Steven than for Tylar because he faced jail time if Joanne continued to press the statutory rape case against him. If Colver was ultimately branded a sex offender, he could kiss his dreams of becoming a teacher goodbye. Soon it would be up to the jury to decide if his freedom would be gone as well.

Verdict and Sentencing
After less than a day of deliberations, the jury came back with its verdict on June 15, 2011 — exactly two years after Joanne Witt's corpse was discovered. The jury found Steven Colver guilty of first-degree murder, with special circumstances of lying in wait and of killing a witness to the statutory rape. The special circumstances rendered Colver ineligible for parole.

After the verdict, Joanne's father Norbert Witt and Steven's mother Jan Colver shared a hug and a cry in front of the courthouse. They had sat across the gallery aisle from each other throughout the proceedings. The trial had taken an emotional toll on both sides.

The Tylar Witt and Steven Colver were formally sentenced on August 12. He received a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole and she was sentenced to 15 years to life Friday.
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