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Mother sentenced to 15 years in prison for her role in son's murder over stolen reptiles

Tiffany Powell was sentenced today for her role in her son's murder.

A Wisconsin mother who held a gun on her son before passing the weapon to her boyfriend who fatally shot him during a dispute over stolen reptiles will spend 15 years in prison.

Tiffany Powell, 37, was in a relationship with exotic animal dealer William Zelenski, 46, of Wild Bill’s Exotics in Waupaca, Wisconsin.

On Oct. 19, 2020, Zelenski called 911 multiple times to report a burglary that occurred at his home the previous week, according to the criminal complaint. He reported handguns, alcohol and several reptiles stolen.

The reptiles included venomous Mexican beaded lizards and a West African gaboon viper. Also taken were a Nile crocodile, red-tailed boa and Burmese python. The total cash value of the stolen reptiles and other items was estimated at $27,000.

Zelenski told police he received a tip that Powell’s son, Ryelee Manente-Powell, 18, and Manente-Powell’s friend Ashton Tody, 20, were involved in the thefts. Zelenski and Powell began driving to the Waupaca home where the animals were located to retrieve them.

While driving, Zelenski and Powell located Manente-Powell walking down Van Street. They pulled the car over and confronted him with a gun.

District Attorney Veronica Isherwood said a doorbell camera recorded the altercation and in the video Zelenski is seen handing a gun to Powell and ordering her to point the gun at her son.

“You see Tiffany Powell holding a loaded shotgun pointed at her son,” she said. “That is a picture that will be in my mind forever. I will never understand how a mother can point a loaded gun at her son at the request of her boyfriend. I just don’t get it.”

At one point Powell gave the gun back to Zelenski. A witness heard a gunshot a little after 10 p.m. and looked out the window to see Powell and Zelenski sitting in a car with a “lump” behind the car.

The witness initially thought Zelenski had hit someone with the vehicle. She ran outside and saw it was Powell’s son, who she knew, and began screaming at Zelenski and Powell to help him.

Isherwood said Powell and Zelenski never rendered any aid to Manente-Powell.

“Tiffany wasn’t trying to stop the bleeding,” she said. “Tiffany wasn’t calling for help. Tiffany was sitting in the car with her boyfriend. When they got out of the car she sat on the grass and just watched her dying son. It’s absolutely unbelievable that a mother could do that.”

Manente-Powell was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

Inside the vehicle Zelenski was driving officers found two guns, six knives, two pairs of handcuffs, a hammer, a baseball bat and a pick ax.

Isherwood said Powell has an extensive criminal record including a 2014 charge for beating Manente-Powell and dragging him by his hair. She said Powell never indicated to law enforcement that she regretted her actions.

“Never has she expressed any remorse,” Isherwood said. “Despite no contact orders with Bill Zelenski she continued to try to communicate with him while in the jail and he with her. It appears she never was mad at him for murdering her son.”

Judge Vicki Clussman noted that during the pre-sentence investigation Powell referred to her son as the victim and did not shed a tear.

During the sentencing hearing, Powell showed no emotion.

"Even here at sentencing you’re really showing me little remorse, even now that the drugs are out of your system, you still don’t have the ability to show me that you have sincere regret for what happened in this case," she said.

Clussman sentenced Powell to a total of 15 years in prison followed by eight years of extended supervision. She was given about two years credit for time served.


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