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Drive-by shooting case reaches the jury

By: Eric Laughlin, The Press Tribune
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A jury began deliberating Tuesday afternoon the case of a Granite Bay man charged with attempted murder for a November 2008 drive-by shooting. Justin Matthew Wittkop, 19, is suspected of shooting a 16-year-old boy twice as he walked down Sierra College Boulevard just west of Douglas Boulevard . Prosecutor Garen Horst has maintained that Wittkop was driving a silver Cadillac when he reached over his girlfriend Kelsey Brace and fired three shots at the boy. Both the victim and another witness walking with him at the time of the shooting confirmed that assertion by saying they saw the male driver fire the shots. But the woman who witnessed the incident while driving behind the Cadillac testified that she thought it was the female passenger in the car who reached out and fired the handgun. Additionally, the defense called another witness who testified that Brace admitted to firing the gun. Brace, 18, has been in state prison since last summer, when she settled the charges against her by accepting a term of three years. Part of that deal included her testifying that Wittkop fired the shots. When Wittkop took the stand in his defense Monday, he admitted to owning and keeping the gun in his car, since he was dealing cocaine, but he denied pulling the trigger or even knowing Brace was going to fire the gun until the shots rang out. Prosecutor Horst told the jury Wittkop cannot be believed, since he’s changed his story since his arrest. The prosecutor also questioned the defendant’s credibility, based on his admission of being a gun-carrying drug dealer. In the trial, Horst had introduced evidence that included text messages Wittkop and Brace sent to each other minutes before the shooting. When describing an altercation she had with the 16-year-old victim at a nearby McDonald’s restaurant, Brace texts to Wittkop, “some guy just choked me, a black (expletive).” Wittkop then responded, “U want me to cum get that guy?” Horst also introduced a letter Wittkop wrote Brace from jail, in which he pleads with her to tell the “truth.” Horst argued that putting the word truth in quotation marks suggests Wittkop had something else in mind. But Wittkop testified that he only used the quotations to emphasize the word. When asked why he fled the scene if Brace had been the shooter, he responded, “I loved this person. I would never want to call the cops and get her arrested.” When it came time for his closing argument, Wittkop’s attorney John Lyman reaffirmed to the jury that two witnesses had said the female passenger fired the shots. Lyman acknowledged that one of those witnesses, Gina Rutherford, was a convicted felon, but argued that her testimony was still credible. Lyman also drew attention to the fact that the victim didn’t immediately tell investigators that he saw the male driver fire the gun. Horst, in his rebuttal argument, called Rutherford a biased witness that “not even Grandma would trust.” He also told jurors that the victim and the other witness were in a better position to see who the shooter was than the woman driving behind. Horst added that the shooter had to have great accuracy to hit the victim twice, and that there was no evidence of Brace even knowing how to use a handgun. If the jury rejects the attempted murder with special circumstances charge (those include premeditation and the use of a gun), they will still have the option to convict Wittkop of attempted voluntary manslaughter or assault with a deadly weapon. He will await the jury’s decision from the Placer County Jail, where he has been held without bail since his arrest.