Teen's Lawyer Explains Insanity Plea in Mom Murder

02/02/2010 at 07:10 PM EST

Teen's Lawyer Explains Insanity Plea in Mom Murder
Tylar Witt
The attorney for Tylar Witt says his client’s unexpected not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity plea on Monday doesn’t necessarily mean the 15-year-old admits to murdering her mother.

El Dorado County Assistant Public Defender Mark Ralphs says Tylar actually entered two pleas in Superior Court: not guilty, and not guilty by reason of insanity.

"The distinction is, if the defendant only enters a not-guilty-by-reason-of insanity plea, they’re saying, ‘I committed the conduct but I’m not responsible because I’m insane,' " explains Ralphs. "In our case, we don’t believe she committed the conduct that she is accused of, and we’re confident that a jury would so find. But we want to keep all of our options open."

Prosecutors say that, after Joanne Witt, 47, read her then-14-year-old daughter’s diary last June and accused her much older boyfriend, Steven Colver, of statutory rape, Tylar drugged her mother and Colver stabbed her 20 times and slashed her throat with a butcher knife.

Colver, 20, entered a regular not guilty plea.

Tylar's attorney declined to discuss what arguments he might make to suggest the B-student was insane when her mother was killed.

"I don’t feel like I can get into that with you," Ralphs says. "There are some unusual facts and circumstances in this case, and there are some other issues" that haven’t surfaced.

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