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Zelenski’s homicide trial continues

Assistant District Attorney Veronica Isherwood and defense attorney Timothy Hogan. Photos courtesy of Court TV

Attorneys present opening statements

By Robert Cloud

Jurors heard opening arguments Monday, June 19, in William Zelenski’s homicide trial.

Zelenski is charged with first-degree intentional homicide for the Oct. 19, 2020, shooting of Ryelee Manete-Powell, who was 18 at the time of his death.

The shooting followed the theft of exotic animals from Zelenski’s home about five days earlier.

In their opening statements, Assistant District Attorney Veronica Isherwood and defense counsel Timothy Hogan presented different accounts of what happened prior to the shooting.

Opening statement by prosecution

Zelenlski during his homcide trial that runs the week of June 19-23. Photo Courtesy Court TV

Isherwood played a segment of Zelenski’s 911 call shortly after Manete-Powell was killed.

“He was walking home, I confronted him, he attacked me and I shot him,” Zelenski told the communications officers.

He was calling on his cell phone from Van Street in Waupaca.

Isherwood said Zelenski had been raising exotic animals, such as venomous snakes and reptiles.

He called 911 four days earlier to report a burglary and the theft of several animals.

Isherwood told the jury that Bill was married to April Zelenski, whom she described as the bread winner in the family, while Tiffany Powell was his girlfriend.

She said all three of them spent time together, describing their relationship as “unusual.”

Zelenski owned a building on Main Street where he planned to open an exotic pets store.

Powell lived in an apartment in the Main Street building.

April Zelenski lived in a house on East Road where Bill kept his exotic animals in a shed.

On Oct. 15, 2020, April noticed that some cages and some animals were missing.

An estimated $24,000 worth of animals were stolen, including venomous snakes, a python and an alligator.

On Oct. 19, 2020, Zelenski began to suspect that Manete-Powell and his friend, Ashton Tody, had stolen the animals from his shed.

Tody’s mother, Angela Borzick called the Zelenskis and Powwel after finding the exotic animals in her basement.

Borzick said she did not know where the animals came from, but she wanted them removed.

Borzick lived on U.S. Highway 10. She gave directions and said she would park at the end of her driveway with her headlights on so they could find her home.

Bill Zelenski and Powell left Main Street and head toward U.S. 10, Isherwood said. April Zelenski was at the East Road home watching Tiffany’s 11-year-old boy.

While driving down School Street, Zelenski and Powell saw Manete-Powwell walking along School Street, who had been released from custody due to precautions at the jail during the Covid pandemic.

They turned on Van Street where the fatal encounter occurred a short time later.

Isherwood noted that Tara Dalrymple, the grandmother of Manete-Powell’s son, lived on Van Street. Zelenski and Powell had visited the home earlier.

“Bill and Tiffany get out of the car,” Isherwood said. “Bill has a loaded, 12-gauge shotgun, double-barrelled, a short shotgun, easily maneuverable. There’s a flashlight on it.”

“He had that gun in one hand and in his other hand, he has a stun gun,” Isherwood added.

Zelenski handed the shotgun to Powell and said “hold this gun on your son and she did,” Isherwood told the jury.

The prosecutor explained there was a motion-activated doorbell video camera that captured some images of the incident, but not the actual shooting.

Isherwood said the initial images showed Zelenski with a shotgun and that Manete-Powell was unarmed.

The next images show Manete-Powell on the ground and Zelenski standing there on the cellphone.

In the first video, Manete-Powell can be heard yelling, “Put the gun down and fight like a man.”

Isherwood discussed several text messages that Zelenski sent, including one that stated, “Someone wrote their own death sentence.”

Isherwood also described the autopsy. She said Manete-Powell was shot just above the armpit.

The projection of the No, 6 shot bee bees goes down, she said, noting that it enters around the second rib, “tears out the bottom of his heart,” and enters in a cone between the third and seventh rib.

“The gun was pressed so tightly against Ryelee when the trigger was pulled you can see the bruising from the double barrel,” Isherwood said.

She also said Zelenski’s DNA was found on the gun’s trigger and trigger guard, while Manete-Powell’s was found on the foregrip and end of the gun.

Isherwood argued that intention can be formed in an instant. Intent doesn’t mean that the intention to kill someone needs to be formed a week in advance.

“Bill Zelenski hunted Ryelee Manete-Powell down. He confronted an unarmed 18-year-old over the theft of some property. He put a gun in his armpit and pulled the trigger and Ryelee Manete-Powell is dead. He didn’t get to celebrate Father’s Day yesterday and his son doesn’t have a father,” Isherwood said.

Opening statement by defense

“Accidents happen. Crimes are committed,” Hogan said. “What happened on Oct. 19, 2020, wasn’t a vicious, intentional crime. It was an accident, a tragic accident caused when Ryelee grabbed the shotgun from Bill and tried to pull it at himself, away from Bill.”

Hogan said Zelenski was afraid that Manete-Powell “was going to take his life.”

The same night that the animals were stolen from Zelenski’s shed on East Road, two handguns were stolen from his car parked on Main Street in Waupaca.

Hagen said Zelenski loved animals and nature from a young age, which “led to a career in law enforcement, to be a DNR warden and a park ranger.”

Zelenski started a business “collecting, raising, breeding animals that expanded into venomous reptiles, dangerous reptiles,” Hagen said. “These just aren’t any reptiles. In the wrong hands they’re deadly. If you’re not trained, if you don’t have the proper equipment, these animals could kill you.”

Hogan also noted that without the proper training and housing, the animals could be killed.

“Bill was worried about his animals,” Hogan said. “He wanted to find them and bring them home safely.”

Zelenski made numerous calls to friends connected to the reptile community, asking if they had heard anything about his missing reptiles.

“He knew that whoever took these animals were going to sell them because they were worth a lot of money,” Hogan said.

He said Zelenski sent numerous texts trying to locate the animals “because they were dangerous and whoever took them did sign their own death sentence because those animals were going to bite them and those people were going to die,”

Hogan said Zelenski and Tiffany Powell received information from Mackenzie Modrow, who was Manate-Powell’s girlfriend at one time.

“Mackenzie tells them, ‘You better watch yourself. Ryelee and Ashton have been asking for rides to come and rob you.’ They said, ‘We’ve already been robbed.’ So now they believe it’s Ryelee,” Hogan said.

They search on Snapchat and find a photo of Manete-Powell holding a distinctive green bottle of Tanqueray gin, similar to one stolen from the shed on East Road. He is also holding a handgun.

Zelenski learned that Manete-Powell was at his home on Mill Street in Waupaca.

As he and Tiffany Powell drove toward Manete-Powell’s home, law enforcement informed him not to go there because officers were on their way.

They returned to the Main Street apartment and waited. They went to Walgreen’s, then while returning from the drug store they saw Tara Dalrymple driving toward her home on Van Street.

They questioned Dalrymple about Manete-Powell and the whereabouts of the missing animals.

A Waupaca police officer called and asked to meet Zelenski and Powell at his building on Main Street.

The officer told Zelenski that “Ryelee and Ashton are being placed in custody,” Hogan said.

Hogan noted that the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office had jurisdiction over the burglary at Zelenski’s East Road residence, not the city police.

“Bill hopes that the sheriff’s deputies will question Ryelee to find out where the animals are,” Hogan said.

After speaking with the officer, Zelenski and Powell started driving back to Dalrymple’s home on Van Street.

At this time, they received the call informing them that Borzick found the animals in her basement.

As they turned onto Van Street, Zelenski and Powell saw someone walking down School Street.

“It’s dark, it’s a quarter after 10 at night,” Hogan said. “They think it’s Ryelee, which surprises Bill because Bill was hoping he was going to be questioned by the sheriff’s department.”

Zelenski thought that Manete-Powell was heading toward Dalrymple’s house in order to ask for a ride and he wants to tell her not to give Manete-Powell a ride.

“Bill knows if that was Ryelee he was going to go back to the animals and get rid of them,” Hogan said. “So Bill needs to get the animals and bring them home safely with no issues.”

Leaving his car parked on the road, Zelenski exited the vehicle then saw a figure running down Van Street toward him.

Hogan said Manete-Powell was yelling, “I’m going to get you,” as he ran toward Zelenski.

Zelenski grabbed his shotgun from the car.

“Bill doesn’t want to shoot the shotgun,” Hogan said. “He’s hoping that the sight of the shotgun will stop Ryelee from advancing.”

Manete-Powell “squares up to him, takes off his jacket and says, ‘Put down the gun and fight me like a man.’ Bill told him ‘I’m not going to put the gun down,’” Hogan told the jury.

Then Zelenski handed the shotgun to Powell, pulled a stun gun from his jacket pocket and tried to subdue Manete-Powell with it.

Hogan said Manete-Powell moved toward the vehicle. The attorney then pointed to a collection of weapons on the defense table in the courtroom.

Zelenski had knives, a hammer, baseball bat and what appeared to be a pickaxe in the vehicle. He was concerned that Manete-Powell would use those weapons, Hogan said.
“So Bill goes back toward the vehicle. He grabs the gun back from Tiffany, but he’s not pointing it at Ryelee,” Hogan said.

Hogan said Manete-Powell attempted to grab the gun “so Bill tightens his grip. He puts his finger on the trigger. Still Ryelee’s struggling, trying to get the gun. Finally, Ryelee yanks it away, causing Bill’s finger to press that that trigger down.”

Hogan attributed the presence of Manete-Powell’s DNA on the shotgun and the trajectory of the shotgun beebees to Manete-Powell pullilng the gun toward himself.

Manete-Powell is on the ground but, according to Hogan, “Bill knows he’s still a threat, just like a wounded animal that can get up and still attack Bill.”

Huber advises jury

Judge Raymond Huber told the jury Monday that opening statements are not the same as evidence.

He said evidence is what they see and hear during witness testimony.

Zelenski’s trial is scheduled to continue through Friday, June 23.

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