Santa Rosa man gets probation for manslaughter at Sonoma State University

- A Santa Rosa man was sentenced in Sonoma County Superior Court Wednesday to three years of probation and credit for jail time served since May for the stabbing death of a man in a dorm room at Sonoma State University. 

Tyler Bratton, 20, pleaded no contest last month to the involuntary manslaughter of Steven John Garcia, 26, of Santa Rosa, on May 13 as part of a negotiated plea agreement. His attorney Lynnette Brown argued at a preliminary hearing that Bratton acted in self-defense.

Bratton faces four years and eight months in prison if he violates his probation, according to Sonoma County Chief Deputy District Attorney Spencer Brady.

Testimony at a preliminary hearing indicated there were three confrontations involving Garcia's friend Rebecca Stjern, 21, Bratton, Bratton's girlfriend Riley O'Rourke, 20, and two other people days before the slaying.

O'Rourke testified Stjern took her car the night before the slaying after she passed out at a party and Stjern threatened her when she confronted her about it.

O'Rourke testified that someone unsuccessfully tried to enter her dorm earlier that day and she and Bratton were on edge and expecting a confrontation involving Stjern.

O'Rourke testified she let Stjern stay in her dorm room and Stjern used her key card to enter it on May 13. She said Garcia forced his way into her bedroom and started choking Bratton.

Bratton told Petaluma police he stabbed Garcia at least six times while they fought in the bathroom. O'Rourke testified she fled the dorm and Bratton soon joined her in a laundry room where they called police.

Garcia's family today asked Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Robert LaForge to reject the plea agreement and sentence Bratton to prison. They said Garcia was stabbed 15 times and his face was slashed open.

"How can that many stab wounds be self-defense? No funeral home wanted to take him because they were afraid of retaliation. There were threats by Tyler's friends," Garcia's cousin Karissa White told the judge.

Garcia's aunt Teresa Kostelnik said he was an outgoing, loving and kind peacemaker.

"Why did you continue cutting his face like that? Were you just waiting to cut someone else because of the scar on your face? He didn't deserve that nightmare.

"The charge should be murder. This is not involuntary manslaughter. This was a terrible (plea) deal. Tyler is a monster and he's getting away with a horrible murder," Kostelnik said.

Kostelnik also said there is no one beside O'Rourke and Bratton to give an account of what happened and there is no one to testify on her nephew's behalf.

"Steven's autopsy is the only thing that could speak in his behalf. And no one was listening," Kostelnik said.

Family members also said they were not consulted about the plea agreement negotiations.

Deputy District Attorney Chris Brown said the District Attorney's Office met with Garcia's family several times to discuss a negotiated disposition of the case before Bratton pleaded no contest in court.

Brown also said the District Attorney's Office did not have sufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to prove a murder charge against Bratton.

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