A Placer County judge sentenced a 20-year-old Granite Bay man to nearly 40 years to life in state prison today for a 2008 drive-by shooting in which a 16-year-old boy was wounded.
Despite maintaining that he had not fired the shots, Justin Mathew Wittkop was given the lengthy term by Superior Court Judge Mark S. Curry, who agreed with a trial jury’s Feb. 10 finding that the defendant was guilty of attempted murder and other felony charges and enhancements involving the use of a handgun.
‘I felt it was a strong case and that the defendant was the shooter,’ Curry said prior to pronouncing the sentence. ‘It saddens me that a young man his age is subject to such punishment.’
Noting that one teenager was wounded by two shots and that another teen was forced to dive out of the way of bullets being fired, Curry said ‘a fraction either way’ could have resulted in a tragic death.
Prosecutor Garen Horst of the Placer County District Attorney’s Office, said that Wittkop, then 18, placed numerous people in danger on Nov. 8, 2008, when he fired shots at the 16-year-old boy as retaliation for a verbal confrontation between the boy and the defendant’s girlfriend earlier that afternoon.
‘Wittkop’s conduct represented a significant threat to public safety and the stiff punishment given by the judge is a requirement by law when a firearm is discharged at someone and causes great bodily injury,’ Horst said after the sentencing.
In court, Horst said that although the victim recovered from shots to the upper leg and to the back, he was traumatized by the shooting and was taken out of school by his family, as was the boy who dove out of the way, Horst said.
‘The incident severely impacted both,’ he said.
Wittkop and his attorney, John Lyman of the Placer County Public Defender’s Office, told the court that the jury had come to the wrong decision as to who fired the shots, implying that Wittkop’s girlfriend had used the gun.
‘The jury simply was wrong on its findings of who the shooter was,’ Lyman said as he asked Judge Curry for a lesser sentence.
Wittkop said he knew he was taking a risk for a longer sentence by going to trial and not pleading to charges that might have resulted in a lesser sentence.
‘I didn’t take it to trial to beat or fool the system,’ he said. ‘But I could not admit that I tried to kill someone. That’s not what happened that day. I didn’t want to agree with something I didn’t do.’
The case stemmed from a verbal spat between Wittkop’s then girlfriend, Kelsey Mariah Brace, then 17, and the 16-year-old boy.
According to testimony during trial, the boy was part of a group of youngsters who walked in front of Brace’s car as she was driving in a parking lot on Sierra College Boulevard near Douglas Boulevard. Brace exited her car and argued with the boy before leaving.
After the boys dined at a fast-food restaurant, they walked in a group on the sidewalk of Sierra College Boulevard when a car drove up alongside and three shots were fired. The victim identified Brace as a passenger but said a male driver had fired the shots.
Two shots struck the victim. The third went through an occupied dwelling but did not strike anyone.
During the trial, the jury found Wittkop guilty of one count of attempted murder, two counts of assault with a firearm, one count of shooting from a motor vehicle and one count of shooting at an inhabited building.
The jury also determined that various enhancements involving the personal use of a firearm and the causing of great bodily injury were true.
Judge Curry imposed a consecutive sentence of life in prison with possibility of parole for the attempted murder conviction, 25 years to life for an enhancement of discharging a firearm to cause great bodily injury and seven years for assault with a deadly weapon on the boy who dove out of the way.
Horst said Wittkop must serve at least 37 actual years in prison before he is eligible for parole.
Brace, 18, who was in the car with Wittkop, became a co-defendant in the case. She pleaded no contest to two charges of assault with a firearm and was sentenced in October to three years in prison. She testified during Wittkop’s trial.