Tyler Marlatt told a Centre County jury he never intended to start a fight when he went to a Lemont home in January.
But when he fled a few short minutes later, he left 20-year-old Tyler Struble dying outside in the cold winter night.
Prosecutors alleged Marlatt, 21, armed himself and drove to the home seeking money or drugs just minutes after Struble ripped off Marlatt’s girlfriend, Fatima Ghoul, in a drug deal on Southgate Drive in State College.
A struggle ensued between the young men minutes later in Lemont, ending when Marlatt stabbed Struble four times, including once in the neck.
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Marlatt, on trial for first-, second- and third degree murder charges, took the stand in his own defense Tuesday. He claims he went to the Lemont home looking for answers after Ghoul was ripped off by her friend, Melinda Burns, who lives in the house where Struble was staying.
“We were going to find out where they were and why they took it,” Marlatt said. “I was going to tell them they are cut off indeterminately. That was my intention.”
Marlatt, dressed in a blue button down shirt, seemed calm taking questions from his attorney — a sharp contrast with how he has been portrayed by prosecutors, and in testimony by other witnesses.
District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said Marlatt was enraged by the drug deal gone wrong. Ghoul was apparently injured, suffering a scrape on her leg after falling when Struble and Burns drove off while she was reaching into the car.
Before resting her case Tuesday, Parks Miller produced jailhouse letters Marlatt allegedly wrote to Ghoul’s mother that show the extent of his anger.
“Seeing you hurt both physically and emotionally because we thought someone was a friend but obviously they weren’t made me snap,” Marlatt wrote in letter allegedly meant for Ghoul. “I’ve never been more angry.”
“You may have bought the car, but it was me and my damn stupidity that drove it,” he wrote in another. “I remember seeing her leg all bloody and feeling rage.”
But Marlatt maintains he acted in self defense when he stabbed Struble. His defense attorney, Ed Blanarik, has said Struble was the larger man and had Marlatt on the ground, punching and choking him.
“I knew I couldn’t see anything,” Marlatt said. “My head kept being hit by something. I could hear people around me but it became muffled, like I was underwater. I feared the worst would happen if I didn’t do something. I feared I was going to die.”
Witnesses to the struggle testified Monday that Marlatt was the aggressor, beating Struble with a wooden bat he brought to the home, and then charging at Struble after he went into the home to retrieve a bat of his own. None could say that Struble hit Marlatt with his bat, and some were sure that he didn’t.
Burns received a text message from the phone Ghoul and Marlatt shared that read, “you’re (expletive). Don’t answer my call — we’re coming.”
Blanarik called several police officers who testified for the prosecution back to the stand Tuesday. One testified that Troy Ott, who was at the Lemont home, witnessed the stabbing, and testified for the prosecution, appeared to be intoxicated the night of the incident.
Marlatt himself testified Tuesday he had taken three hits of the hallucinogen LSD earlier in the day. He said Ghoul and Alex Exarchos and Sean Holton, who traveled with Marlatt to the Lemont home and witnessed the stabbing, also took the drug. Burns had previously testified that she and Struble smoked the marijuana they stole from Ghoul before Struble returned to their home.
The trial is expected to resume this morning in Bellefonte. The jury could begin deliberating as early as this afternoon, President Judge Thomas K. Kistler said.