The 50-Year-Old Unsolved Murder of Cyrena Jane Manning, Part Three

| December 1, 2022

FRANKLIN, Pa. (EYT) – Everything that was impeding the murder trial in the case of Cyrena Jane Manning from starting had been cleared away. All except for jury selection.

This is Part Three in a three-part series about the 1972 stabbing murder of Cyrena Jane “Janie” Manning. Please see our other articles in the series linked at the bottom of this article.

While the judge had barred the prosecution and defense from speaking to the press, information started to leak out.

For example, the press reported that their sources said the trial was going to last three to four days. Spoiler–it didn’t. They also said that it was likely that the jury was going to be taken to the scene of the crime back in Franklin. It was also reported that neither the judge nor the attorneys on either side saw any problem in quickly seating twelve jurors.

Jury selection began on November 4, 1974. What was supposed to take only a few hours ended up taking much longer. Only one juror was selected by the end of that day, and it took another three days to seat 12 jurors and two alternates.

The jury was comprised of eight women and four men. Both alternates were also women.

On November 7, 1974, before opening statements began, all twelve jurors, plus the two alternates, made the trip by bus from the Clearfield County courthouse to 804 Elk Street in Franklin. Accompanying the jury was Judge Cherry, DA Miles Lynn, three defense lawyers including Joseph Valentino, Frank Sydlowski (the defendant), and a few Clearfield County court tipstaves. They toured the home, which by that time had been renovated and was occupied by renters. Nonetheless, they examined the property for about an hour that Friday.

(Pictured: Cyrena Jane “Janie” Manning in 1972.)

The trial itself took five days. The first three were filled with the prosecution’s presentation. Witness after witness ascended the stand to tell the jury what they knew, or what they had seen. It was all very routine until the fourth day when the prosecution called a surprise witness: the victim’s sister, Melvina Chatley.

Mrs. Chatley testified that about three weeks before Janie was killed, Frank came to her house, which she shared with her dad, and thinking he saw Janie from behind, went up to Melvina, grabbed her by the shoulders, and said, “Janie, Janie.” She said he was confused when she turned around. She offered him a cup of tea.

He replied, “I’m too upset to drink.” Frank then talked with Melvina about his breakup with Janie. He said, “I can’t do a thing. I can’t understand it. One day she loves me, and the next day she doesn’t.” Melvina said she replied, “Perhaps it’s better to know now that she thinks it’s a mistake.” To which he replied, according to her, “I don’t feel that way. I love her. I want her. She’s my life. If I can’t have her, no one else will.”

The defense was livid that none of this had come out during discovery.

During the next witness’ testimony, they found out why the defense had never learned about Mrs. Chatley. That witness was Franklin Police Department Lieutenant Robert Heller, who testified that he never took a written statement from Mrs. Chatley. He only wrote a single note, which said, “If I can’t have her, no one else will.” Had he taken a written statement, they would have had to disclose the interview to the defense. But, the way they did it, they reasoned, they didn’t have to.

The prosecution simply slipped a copy of that note into a pile of papers given to the defense the previous day, knowing that they’d be calling Mrs. Chatley to the stand.

It’s a dirty trick and one that backfired. Understanding what the prosecution had done, Judge Cherry sustained every objection the defense raised the rest of the day. It also may have incensed several jurors.

On the fifth day of the trial, the defense presented its case.

Attorney Valentino stood up and entered into evidence an affidavit signed by James E. Hoffman, who was a member of the defense team earlier in the case. The affidavit stated that he and Valentino visited the home of Joseph and Marion Mortimer on December 2, 1972. They had made a recording of the interview, but it was unintelligible. It said that Mr. Hoffman was familiar with a 1972 blue and gold Ohio license plate with the number K-2112-U. The license plate was then admitted into evidence. At that point, Valentino rested his case and sat down.

(Pictured: Frank Sydlowski’s booking photo, November 23, 1972.)

The affidavit said that Valentino and Hoffman had visited the Mortimers in their home on December 2, 1972. Marion Mortimer stated throughout the hearings and in her testimony at trial that the defense lawyers had never met with them. With that, Valentino poked a giant hole in the credibility of Mrs. Mortimer’s memory and testimony.

I’m sure District Attorney Lynn was shocked when Valentino rested his case after a presentation that only lasted five minutes! But, he stood up and made his closing statement. He talked to the jury for 30 minutes. He went through his entire case and spelled out to the jury what conclusion they should come to based on all the evidence. He said, though, that if they couldn’t reach first-degree murder, they had other options. It could be second-degree or voluntary manslaughter.

Mr. Valentino’s closing statement was nine times longer than his entire defense. He started off by saying the police’s investigation of this crime was “the worst I have seen in my six short years of practicing law.”

He went on to argue that the only thing the prosecution proved was that his client was guilty of adultery.

“I submit to you that every one, except possibly two witnesses – Melvina Chatley and Mrs. Mary Mortimer – testified for the defense,” he said.

He argued that this whole thing was a case of mistaken identity. Janie Manning, after all, had several boyfriends, and the police hadn’t done a good job at looking into them. If, he continued, it was his client that Mrs. Mortimer saw about an hour after Janie was killed, she hadn’t seen go into or come out of the house.

“How does she know he didn’t knock on the door, and getting no answer, left?” he asked.

“Has the Commonwealth proven anything to you about this murder?” he asked pounding his fist on the jury box. “The defendant came into the courtroom clothed in a presumption of innocence. You should have the opinion that he is innocent till the Commonwealth proves him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Sitting there is a man unjustly accused.”

With that, he closed his argument and sat down.

The jury deliberated for only 90 minutes before they came back with a verdict of not guilty.

After the jury was dismissed, Frank hugged and kissed his family and shook hands with DA Lynn and others in the courtroom. And, that was that.

About ten days later, DA Lynn announced that there would be no further investigation into the death of Janie Manning. The case was to be declared inactive. Lynn thought he had his guy and would have liked to re-try him, but protections under the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment prevented that.

Franklin Police Department and District Attorney Miles Lynn blew the case, I think. They made one critical error after another, not the least of which is they failed to mirandize Frank, leading to a mountain of evidence being thrown out. I’m sure they tried to salvage their case when they decided to play dirty at trial by sneaking in a witness. The jurors, I think, didn’t like that.

Frank died on July 13, 1987, at the age of 71. Grace stayed with him until the end of his life. When he died, they had been married for 48 years. She died in 2012 at the age of 96.

This is Part Three in a three-part series. Read Part One: here, and Part Two: here.


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Category: Local News, News, Venango County Cold Case

Gavin Fish is a reporter for EYT Media Group and YouTuber based in Venango County. In addition to his YouTube Channel, he has contributed to investigations and reports for ABC News, Investigation Discovery, and Fox Nation, and has collaborated on projects developed for Netflix, Oxygen, Discovery Channel, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.
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