Man convicted in wife’s 2010 death
A Copiah County jury convicted a Walthall County man of murder Wednesday for killing his longtime companion with a shotgun in 2010 and hiding her body in a freezer.
The jury deliberated about 30 minutes Wednesday before finding Robert Wayne Silvia, 58, guilty of murder. Circuit Court Judge Michael Taylor sentenced Silvia to life in prison.
“We believe that we put forward a strong murder case,” said Brendon Adams, an assistant district attorney for the area that includes Walthall County. “The facts of the case were largely undisputed.”
The jury found Silvia killed Darlene Berthelot on June 4, 2010, at the
residence the two shared at 44 Willie Cothern Road in Jayess. Silvia and Berthelot, 56 at the time of her murder, had been in a 17-year relationship.
Evidence indicates Silvia fired a 12-gauge shotgun twice at Berthelot from about 3 feet away, once through the neck and once through the abdomen while Berthelot either was asleep or resting in a chair watching television, Adams said.
The defense contended Silvia acted in the heat of passion and should have been convicted of manslaughter rather than murder.
“He was always consistent that he just snapped,” said John McNeil, Silvia’s court-appointed defense attorney. “It wasn’t action that you’d normally call a murder case where someone is premeditating.”
As Adams said, though, many details of the case remained undisputed at trial.
“We never denied the fact that he did shoot her, and that he did put her body in a deep freezer,” McNeil said.
With the facts largely settled, prosecutors dismissed the notion of heat of passion.
“We presented the case as premeditated murder,” Adams said. “We alleged this was something he had building up inside him.”
At the time of the killing, Berthelot and Silvia were reportedly about to separate.
Silvia referred to Berthelot as his common-law wife, Adams said, though Mississippi law does not provide for common-law marriage.
“From the stand he testified he had been drinking and all this rage was building inside,” Adams said.
Berthelot and Silvia had also disputed about the house they shared, McNeil said. Silvia testified she wanted to allow it to go into foreclosure.
Silvia testified he does not remember the shooting but woke up the next day and found Berthelot dead on the floor, Adams said.
At that point, Silvia apparently unpacked the food from a freezer in the house, placed Berthelot’s body inside and placed the food back inside the freezer.
After Berthelot’s daughter became suspicious of her mother’s absence, she reported her missing. Authorities discovered Berthelot’s body in the freezer on June 10, 2010.
The trial began Tuesday in Copiah County after a fall 2011 mistrial in Walthall County. That trial never got past jury selection.
“We had some jury misconduct,” said Walthall County Circuit Clerk Vernon Alford.
A potential juror expressed a belief, in court, that Silvia was guilty, resulting in successful motions for mistrial and a change of venue, Alford said.
“We had too much talk going on,” McNeil said.
Berthelot and Silvia had lived in Mississippi since about 2004, McNeil said. Prior to that, McNeil said he thought they’d lived together in Texas and Massachusetts.