Wittkop found guilty, could face life in prison

By: Eric Laughlin
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AUBURN - A jury Wednesday returned five guilty verdicts in the case of the Granite Bay man who shot and injured a 16-year-old boy in a November 2008 drive-by shooting. Justin Matthew Wittkop, 19, could spend the rest of his life in prison, as result of convictions that include attempted murder with special circumstances. He had been arrested shortly after the Sierra College Boulevard incident, in which he reached out of his silver Cadillac and fired three shots, two of which struck the victim. During trial, Wittkop's attorney had argued that the defendant's girlfriend and passenger, Kelsey Brace, was the one who fired the shots. That theory was even affirmed by a witness driving behind Wittkop's vehicle at the time. But the jury ended up believing the victim himself, who testified he saw the male driver's arm out the window with a revolver immediately after he was shot. Brace, 18, took a plea bargain last summer that came with three years in prison and her testimony against Wittkop. It will now be up to Judge Mark Curry to hand down a sentence for Wittkop. The attempted murder conviction comes with seven years to life, but three separate special allegations of shooting a gun and causing great bodily injury each potentially carry 25 to life. The victim's family members did not attend the verdict reading, but Wittkop's mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were present; all began crying as a court clerk uttered the word guilty. "He didn't do it, this is so crazy," grandmother Sandy Hammond said. "And Kelsey gets off. I just don't understand this." Mother Kristina Wittkop criticized the justice system and the way plea bargaining was conducted in the case. "What it tells you as a citizen is that you're just supposed to suck it up and take a plea even if you didn't do it," she said. "Because that way you'll do less time." She added that the initial plea offer extended to her son was 19 years. Moments later, she and the other family members waved as a white sheriff's van left the courthouse parking lot to return Wittkop to jail. He will there await an April 9 sentencing hearing.