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Zelenski gets life sentence

William Zelenski at the time of his arrest following the shooting of Ryelee Manente-Powell on Oct. 19, 2020. Photo Courtesy of Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office

Convicted killer has chance for parole in 35 years

By Robert Cloud

Waupaca County Judge Raymond Huber sentenced William Zelenski to life in prison Friday, July 28.

Zelenski will be eligible for parole after he serves 35 years.

Huber said eligibility does not guarantee that Zelenski will actually be paroled. Family, friends and law enforcement will have an opportunity to testify at a parole hearing 35 years from now before a decision is made to release him from prison or not.

When he comes up for parole, Zelenski will be 82 years old.

A jury convicted Zelenski of first-degree intentional homicide on June 23 after a weeklong trial.

Zelenski killed Ryelee Manente-Powell with a 12-gauge, double-barrelled shotgun. The victim was 18 and the father of a 2-year-old son at the time of his death on the night of Oct. 19, 2020.

Four days before the shooting, Manente-Powell and a friend stole several exotic reptiles from Zelenski’s rural Waupaca home.

Factors in sentencing

“You don’t bring a gun to a fist fight,” Huber said when weighing the three factors he must consider prior to sentencing.

Those factors are the gravity of the offense, the character of the defendant and the protection of the community.

“There is no more serious offense than intentionally taking the life of another,” Huber said.

Huber said it was a cause for concern that Zelenski confronted an unarmed teenager with a shotgun, especially in light of Zelenski’s training in law enforcement.

He also noted that Zelenski was involved in a similar, although not fatal incident while he was a Waupaca police officer.

Zelenski’s character

During her arguments at sentencing, Assistant District Attorney Veronica Isherwood said Zelenski and another officer were shooting target practice on Zelenski’s property.

A neighbor complained, an argument ensued and Zelenski fired his gun, Isherwood said.

During the nearly three years that Zelenski was an officer, Isherwood said he was the subject of three internal investigations, cited for unprofessional conduct, and his record included suspensions and written reprimands.

The prosecutor also accused Zelenski of being a meth user and dealer, as well as a loan shark.

Isherwood said one woman said Zelsnski threatened to cut off her fingers if she didn’t pay him the money she owed him.

Timothy Hogan, Zelenski’s defense counsel, said Isherwood’s portrayal of Zelenski relied on stories rather than evidence.

He argued that police found “not a single shred of physical evidence” of methamphetamine use in the vehicle that they seized when they arrested Zelenski the night of the murder.

Unreliable statements

Huber said he didn’t know whether or not to believe the allegations about drug dealing and threatening behavior. None of the people who reported them testified at the hearing about their experiences and Huber did not consider them to be reliable witnesses since many had court records. He described them as a “rogues gallery.”

Huber noted that Zelenski had some positive characteristics, such as his love of animals and his efforts to help zoos deal with troublesome animals.

The judge also spoke of a drug court participant who described Zelenski as having a positive influence on him.

“Mr. Zelenski appears to demonstrate true remorse,” Huber added.

Huber also questioned Zelenski’s claim that he was motivated by his concern for the animals that Manente-Powell stole from him.

The judge noted that after Zelenski learned where the animals were located, he did not contact police or go to the home where the animals were located. He went to the home where he believed Manente-Powell was headed.

Noting that Zelenski’s vehicle was loaded with “a plethora of weapons,” Huber said much of Zelenski’s “story doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

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