‘Happened quick.’ Witness recounts deadly Philipsburg-area stabbing as homicide trial starts

Shortly after a scuffle over a bluetooth speaker, on Aug. 19, 2022, Brian Lyncha staggered into a Rush Township yard and dropped to his knees before falling to his stomach. “Call 911; I’ve been stabbed,” he said.

Lyncha, 41, never got up.

Nearly a full year later, the trial of accused killer and Philipsburg man Fernando Rosado-Guzman, 36, has begun in Bellefonte’s Centre County Courthouse, and the full fallout over Lyncha’s death is yet to be determined. Rosado-Guzman claims he stabbed Lyncha in self-defense; the prosecution argued Monday on the first day of trial that he was the aggressor.

About six days have been set aside for the trial in front of Centre County President Judge Pamela Ruest, meaning a verdict from the jury is expected to come sometime in early August. On Monday, more than a half-dozen witnesses testified while Rosado-Guzman sat nearby in a dark suit, passing notes to his public defender and alternating between staring at the floor and whoever was speaking.

Responding police officers, a paramedic, a neighbor, a beer-shop clerk and others offered testimony about their limited interactions with those involved. The clerk said she saw Rosado-Guzman every day at the shop but couldn’t identify him in the courtroom; another local man who spotted Rosado-Guzman twice on the train tracks that day said the accused killer had a reputation as an “aggressive drunk,” although he didn’t know Rosado-Guzman personally.

The most intimate testimony, the most important, came from lone eyewitness John Bratton, a Philipsburg man who was friends with both men. Bratton testified he and Rosado-Guzman downed a 12-pack of beer near the train tracks on a sunny Aug. 19 before running into Lyncha in the same area.

Bratton, who on Monday sported a bushy salt-and-pepper beard and a button-down flannel shirt, testified that the fight that ultimately led to Lyncha’s death “happened quick.” There was some yelling about the bluetooth speaker then, Bratton testified, Rosado-Guzman stepped up to Lyncha’s face, took a swing at him — it’s not clear if the punch connected — and then tackled Lyncha and rolled down the embankment.

Bratton, who spoke steadily while he was on the stand, acknowledged he froze at the top of the train tracks for what seemed like a few minutes. He then made his way down the embankment, where he found Lyncha atop Rosado-Guzman. Bratton said he tried to pull Lyncha off him, saw a silver flash — which he later assumed was a stab from Rosado-Guzman’s knife — and then saw Lyncha walk away. “Got you now, motherf—–,” he recalled Rosado-Guzman saying.

Bratton and Rosado-Guzman then went to buy more beer. Lyncha would die soon thereafter in a stranger’s yard, after three inches of a four-inch pocket knife penetrated his heart. Police would later find drops of blood at the scene.

First Assistant Public Defender Lora Rupert repeatedly emphasized that Bratton’s testimony had changed several times since the incident, initially telling police that he hadn’t seen anything. (Bratton explained he doesn’t trust all police and thought he could avoid jail by telling them he didn’t know anything.) He is currently incarcerated for unrelated DUIs but was not given a reduced sentence to testify. In fact, one inmate called him a snitch because of his plans to testify, so he was moved to solitary confinement in a pre-emptive way to maintain his safety.

Bratton remained composed throughout much of his testimony, breaking his tough exterior briefly and only once. When Centre County Assistant District Attorney Megan McGoron asked Bratton if he had been through a lot that day, on Aug. 19, Bratton’s voice finally cracked: “That day, yes.”

Bratton was interviewed by police twice on Aug. 19. Rosado-Guzman was seen around town that day, and back at the beer shop, with a large black left eye. Eventually, later on Aug. 19, Rosado-Guzman called police.

During their opening statements, attorneys painted opposing pictures of what transpired.

“He was in fear of his life and wanted to get Brian off him,” Rupert said, explaining the fatal blow to the heart.

Countered McGoron: “You don’t get to claim self-defense when you start a fight.”

Rosado-Guzman, who did not testify Monday, is being held at Centre County Correctional Facility. He is charged with criminal homicide and with possession of an instrument of crime with intent.

The trial is set to resume at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

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