Weeklong homicide trial comes to conclusion
By Robert Cloud
A Waupaca County jury convicted William Zelenski, 46, of first-degree intentional homicide Friday, June 23, after a weeklong trial.
Judge Raymond Huber scheduled a sentencing hearing for Tuesday, Aug. 22.
Huber also ordered a presentencing investigation. Zelenski faces life in prison.
Zelenski killed Ryelee Manente-Powell with a 12-gauge, double-barrelled shotgun. The victim was 18 at the time of his death on the night of Oct. 19, 2020.
Manente-Powell had been involved in stealing reptiles, guns and liquor from Zelenski on Oct. 15, 2020.
Isherwood’s closing arguments
In closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Veronica Isherwood focused on two key elements in Zelenski’s defense case – that he was acting in self defense and the killing was an accident.
She noted that Manente-Powell lost his life 977 days earlier.
“Throughout the investigation he (Zelenski) claimed it was self defense,” Isherwood said. “Except that Ryelee Manente did not have a gun. He did not have a knife. He did not have a baseball bat. He had no weapons on him.”
Zelenski had a knife, a bat, a hammer and other weapons on the backseat of his car. Police also found another gun in the trunk.
Isherwood also noted that Zelenski did not begin claiming the shooting was accidental until the trial.
“As of Oct. 19, 2020, the beginning of this trial, he wants you to believe that pulling the trigger was an accident. It was Ryelee’s fault,” Isherwood told the jury. “He didn’t tell Tiffany Powell it was an accident, Ryelee’s own mother. He didn’t tell Tara Dalrymple it was an accident when she was at the scene screaming, ‘Why did you do this?’ In fact he said, ‘He came at me. I had no choice.’ Does this sound like an accident to you? Nine-hundred and seventy-seven days later, it’s an accident.”
During the trial, Zelenski spoke about his experience as a police officer and how he was trained to de-escalate situations.
Zelinski claims self defense
He also testified he was afraid of Manente-Powell, who had a history of violence, including domestic abuse and a fight while he was in jail.
“He learned how to control a subject under arrest,” Isherwood said. “So when it’s convenient for him, he draws on this police training that at the time he hadn’t used in over 15 years (when Zelenski left the Waupaca police force). But when it’s not convenient for him, all thoughts of his police training go out the window.”
She reminded the jury of the judge’s instructions regarding the use of deadly force in self defense.
“The only way he gets to use deadly force is if he believes he is going to die,” Isherwood said.
Isherwood referred to the doorbell camera video that shows images just prior and shortly after the shooting, but not the shooting itself.
“He’s (Ryelee) walking down the street. You see him stop. Bill and Tiffany come to him, not the other way around,” Isherwood said.
Tiffany Powell, the victim’s mother and Zelenski’s girlfriend, was at the scene and she aimed the shotgun at Manente-Powell. She was convicted of first-degree reckless endangerment with a weapon and felon in possession of a weapon on Dec. 2, 2022. She is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence.
Isherwood also reminded the jury of testimony indicating that Zelenski told witnesses, “I’m going to tase and handcuff Ryelee.”
Zelenski had decided he was going to arrest Manente-Powell, Isherwood said.
“Except he’s not a law enforcement officer,” she said. “He did not have the right to handcuff Ryelee. He did not have the right to attack and tase him. He did not have the right to point a firearm at him, much less pull the trigger and kill him.”