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Zelenski testifies at homicide trial

William Zelenski during testimony on Thursday. Court TV Photo

Attorneys question defendant in Waupaca County

By Robert Cloud

In a Waupaca County homicide trial that has drawn national media attention, William Zelenski took the stand Wednesday and Thursday, June 21-22.

Zelenski killed Reylee Manente-Powell, who was 18 years old at the time, with a shotgun on the night of Oct. 19, 2020.

His attorney, Timothy Hogan, has argued that Zelenski pulled the gun on Manente-Powell in self defense and accidentally pulled the trigger as they struggled over the gun.

The victim’s mother, Tiffany Powell, entered pleas of no contest to charges of first-degree reckless endangerment and felon in possession of a firearm on Dec. 2, 2022.

Powell held the shotgun and pointed it at her son for a brief time during the fatal confrontation.

On Oct. 15, 2020, Manente-Powell, and a friend, Ashton Tody stole exotic animals, including snakes, lizards and an alligator, from Zelenski’s shed on East Road outside Waupaca.

Two handguns were stolen that same evening from Zelenski’s car parked outside a building he owns on North Main Street in Waupaca.

Zelenski testified he was looking for the missing animals on the night he encountered Manente-Powell on Van Street in Waupaca.

Victim described as violent

Explaining why he was afraid of Manente-Powell, Zelenski described several violent incidents he either witnessed first hand or heard about from others.

He spoke about a domestic abuse incident involving Manente-Powell’s girlfriend at the time, Mackenzie Modrow.

“The first thing that made me very concerned that I heard about was an incident that happened I believe in February where he told me he had been drinking, went over to his Grant Street apartment to see Mackenzie,” Zelenski said. “They got into an argument and the argument turned from a verbal argument to a physical fight.”

Zelenski said there was pushing, slapping, punching and at one point Manente-Powell grabbed Modrow by the neck, pushed her up against the wall, and took her phone from her.

Police were called to the apartment and Manente-Powell was later charged.

Zelenski said Manente-Powell bragged about a fight he had with another inmate while he was at the county jail.

Manente-Powell believed the other inmate did not give him “the respect he thought he deserved.,” Zelenski said.

Zelenski said he saw a Manente-Powell become verbally aggressive and abusive with his girlfriend while they were at the Main Street apartment where Tiffany Powell lived.

In a conversation later, Zeleinski said Manente-Powell told him, “I have this violent streak in me that I can’t control and once I get to a certain point of anger I can’t stop.”

On the night of the shooting, Zelenski said he was driving to Tara Dalrymple’s house because he did not want her to give Manente-Powell a ride to the Weyauwega house where the animals had been located. Dalrymple is the grandmother of Manente-Powell’s son.

Zelenski had seen someone walking down School Street, toward Van Street, that he thought might be Manente-Powell.

Later, after he parked the car, Zelenski said he saw that person running toward him and yelling, then became certain who it was.

Zelenski grabs shotgun

Knowing that two handguns had been stolen from his car, Zelenski said he thought there was a chance that Manente-Powell was armed.

“He could have had any sort of weapon – knives, gun, I didn’t know, but I did know he was faster, stronger, quicker, more agile, and he wanted to hurt me,” Zelenski said.

Zelenski had a shotgun in his car, between the driver’s seat and the center console. He drew the shotgun from its sleeve, grabbed two shells from an ashtray and loaded the gun.

He remembers switching on the flashlight and red laser sight attached to the shotgun, but could not remember if he pulled back the hammers.

“I pointed it in his direction,” Zelenski said.;

Zelenski said Manente-Powell continued running toward him, even after he told him he had a gun.

He said he handed the gun to Tiffany Powell, then pulled out a stun gun with a flashlight from inside his coat pocket.

He believed that using the stun gun could stop Manente-Powell without seriously hurting him.

Zelenski said he “lunged toward” Manente-Powell and tried to taze him, but dropped the stun gun.

When he saw Manente-Powell run toward his car, Zelenski said he grabbed the shotgun back from Tiffany Powell.

“If he gets in that car, there’s all types of weapons in there,” Zelenski said.

Zelenski said he initially aimed the gun at the ground, then pointed it toward Manente-Powell.

Tug of war with shotgun

Manente-Powell grabbed the gun with both hands, Zelenski said, resulting in what he called a tug of war.

“When he grabbed it and started pulling on it, I pulled back and he pulled back even harder,” Zelenski said. “When he pulled it hard, the gun came off my shoulder towards him and in the process my finger pulled the trigger.”

Hogan asked Zelenski about his intentions the night of the shooting.

“My intent was to my find and return my animals safely home,” Zelenski said.

“Were you looking to find Ryelee?”


Were you looking to hurt Ryelee”

“Absolutely not.”

“Did you intend to shoot Ryelee that night?”


“Did you intend to kill Ryelee tht night?”

“Absolutely not.”

Did you want Ryelee to die?” Hogan asked.

“No,” Zelenski replied. He then began to break down emotionally, and started crying.

Assistant District Attorney Veronica Isherwood is scheduled to cross examine Zelenski thursday afternoon, with closing arguments slated for Friday morning.

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