BELLEFONTE 21-year-old Tyler Marlatt will spend the rest of his life in a state prison for the stabbing death of a 20-year-old man over $20 worth of stolen marijuana.
A Centre County jury found Marlatt guilty of second- and third-degree murder for killing Tyler Struble in a Lemont backyard in January, but acquitted him on a charge of first-degree murder.
The second-degree murder charge carries a mandatory life sentence. Centre County President Judge Thomas K. Kistler delivered the sentence minutes after the jury rendered its verdict.
Calvin Struble, speaking before the sentence was handed down, asked if he could directly address the man convicted of murdering his son.
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“What you did affected a lot of us — your family, my family,” Tyler Struble’s father said to Marlatt, who turned in his seat to face the man. “He was more than my son, he was a father. Now his son is left without a father at 2 years old.”
Given the opportunity to speak before being sentenced, Marlatt stood, turned away from the defense table and faced about two dozen members of his and Struble’s families.
“For what it’s worth I am sorry for everyone who is affected,” he said. “I wish it didn’t happen the way it did. I really am sorry.”
Prosecutors alleged an enraged Marlatt tracked down Tyler Struble to reclaim drugs or money just minutes after Struble drove off without paying Marlatt’s girlfriend in a drug deal gone wrong in State College.
Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said Marlatt brought weapons, threatened Struble and eventually stabbed the man four times, including once in the neck. He fled the home as Struble lay dying in the backyard, and later ditched the knife he used, police alleged.
Struble’s mother, Ellie, told Marlatt before he was sentenced that she forgives him for killing her son.
The mothers of both young men shared an emotional embrace before leaving the courthouse.
Seven men and five women on the jury deliberated for about eight hours before returning with their verdict. In addition to the murder charges, Marlatt was convicted of aggravated assault, robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery.
His girlfriend, Fatima Ghoul, previously pleaded guilty to robbery and drug charges and is awaiting her sentencing.
Marlatt, who testified in his own defense, maintained he was acting in self-defense when he stabbed Struble. Marlatt was represented by his court-appointed attorney, Ed Blanarik.
On the stand, Marlatt said he went to the home to talk, not take money by force. The drug deal had been set up between friends — Marlatt’s girlfriend, Fatima Ghoul, and Melinda Burns, who lives in the Lemont home and was close with Struble.
Marlatt claimed he was overwhelmed in a struggle that ensued between the two young men, and was pinned to the ground, being punched and choked. He said he feared for his life.
Though he testified that he couldn’t remember reaching for his hunting knife, he said the killing was done in self-defense.
Witnesses to the stabbing, however, testified that Marlatt was the aggressor, beating Struble with a wooden bat Marlatt brought from home, and later charging at Struble and knocking him to the ground. It was during that struggle that the stabbing occurred.
Parks Miller said for the jury to convict Marlatt of first-degree murder, they would have to find he acted with a specific intent to kill, and malice.
To convict him of second-degree murder, the jury would have to find Marlatt killed someone while in the commission or attempted commission of a robbery.
Both counts carry a mandatory life sentence, court officials said.
“There are no winners in this case,” Parks Miller said after the trial.
Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter.