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Monday, October 10, 2022

The Cheryl Silvonek Murder Case

   Cheryl Silvonek lived with her 14-year-old daughter Jamie in a suburban home outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania. On March 8, 2015, the 54-year-old mother learned that her daughter's boyfriend, Army PFC Caleb Barnes, at 21, was much older than she had been led to believe.

     In an effort to end the relationship between her eighth grade daughter and the Army private, Cheryl Silvonek struck a deal with the boyfriend. Barnes agreed to end the romance and return to his base at Fort Meade, Maryland in return for the mother's promise to take the couple to a Breaking Benjamin concert in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

     In the early morning hours of March 15, 2015, following the Scranton concert, Cheryl Silvonek, with her daughter and Caleb Barnes in her SUV, pulled into the Silvonek house driveway. Before the mother could climb out of her vehicle, Barnes started punching her in the head. The assailant tried to choke the victim to death before stabbing her four times. She died in the vehicle shortly after the attack.

     Following the cold-blooded murder, Barnes and the victim's daughter drove the SUV to a place nearby where they dumped the body into a shallow grave. Once they had disposed of the corpse, the murderous couple drove to a Walmart store where they purchased a bottle of bleach and other cleaning supplies they used to clean up the victim's blood.

     Not long after the killing, detectives took the couple into custody on suspicion of murder. Investigators linked Jamie Silvonek to the murder through numerous text messages she had sent to Barnes in the days leading up to the crime. Many of these messages, besides being sexually explicit, urged Barnes to murder Mrs. Silvonek. "I want her gone," the daughter wrote.

     Caleb Barnes, when interrogated by detectives, confessed to the murder. He also insisted that Jamie Silvonek had no prior knowledge of the homicide. In an effort to protect his girlfriend, he took full responsibility for the crime.

     Notwithstanding the boyfriend falling on his sword for his young lover, a Lehigh County prosecutor charged Jamie Silvonek with solicitation of murder. The district attorney charged Barnes with first-degree murder.

     Shortly after being booked into the Lehigh County Jail, Jamie Silvonek's attorneys filed a motion to have her case adjudicated in juvenile court. If found guilty as a juvenile, she could not be imprisoned beyond her twenty-first birthday. The district attorney filed an opposing motion requesting that Silvonek be tried in adult court where a guilty verdict would lead to a sentence of up to 25 years to life.

     On October 29, 2005, at a pre-trial hearing before Judge Marie L. Dantos, both sides, on the issue of  whether or not Silvonek should be tried as an adult or a juvenile, put their expert witnesses on the stand.

     Dr. John O'Brien, a psychiatrist testifying for the prosecution, portrayed Jamie Silvonek as a developing sociopath who had the knack of presenting herself as a victim. According to Dr. O'Brien, Silvonek's teachers at the Orfield Middle School painted her as "a sociopath who thinks societal values do not apply to her." Teachers described Silvonek as extremely mature and manipulative, a "chameleon" who could change faces depending upon who she was talking to and what she wanted.

     To support his diagnosis of the defendant, the prosecution psychiatrist highlighted, among others, these text messages sent by Silvonek: "Don't be afraid of the sides of you that are dark, terrifying" and "People don't understand how cold and manipulative I can be, I hide it so well no one expects."

     Psychologist Dr. Frank Dattilo took the stand on behalf of the defendant. According to this expert witness, the girl was highly intelligent but extremely immature. When Caleb Barnes began flirting with her, the eighth grader didn't know how to handle his attention. According to Dr. Dattilo, "He [Barnes] pursued her. It's a big deal for a young female to be pursued by someone older. She became enamored of this. She was over the moon about the older guy. It's every young girl's dream. She was swept up by Mr. Barnes."

     On November 20, 2015, Judge Dantos, in a 37-page opinion outlining her rationale, ruled that Jamie Silvonek would be tried for murder solicitation as an adult.

     On February 11, 2016, Jamie Silvonek pleaded guilty to the charge of soliciting the murder of her mother. The judge sentenced her to 25 years to life in prison.

     On September 20, 2016, a jury found Caleb Barnes guilty of first-degree murder. At the trial, Jamie Silvonek testified for the prosecution. She said her mother had been murdered because she had tried to destroy her relationship with the defendant. The judge sentenced Barnes to life in prison. 

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