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Waupaca mother convicted of lesser charges in son’s murder over stolen reptiles


Tiffany Powell and William Zelenski of Waupaca, Wisconsin

Tiffany Powell was convicted today of recklessly endangering safety and felon in possession of a firearm for her role in the murder of her son, 18-year-old Ryelee Manente-Powell, over stolen reptiles.


Powell’s most serious charge of party to the crime of intentional homicide was dismissed.


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.


Zelenski reported handguns, alcohol and several reptiles stolen, including a venomous rhino viper and a beaded lizard valued at $17,000. The total cash value of the stolen reptiles and other items was estimated at $27,000.


Earlier that day, Powell and her son allegedly had a fight and Powell told Manente-Powell, “You’re dead to me.” Zelenski told police he received a tip that Manente-Powell and Ashton Tody, 17, were involved in the theft.


Zelenski and Powell began driving to Tody's Waupaca home where the animals were located to retrieve them.


While driving, Zelenski and Powell encountered Manente-Powell, who was walking down Van Street. Zelenski pulled the car over and he and Powell confronted Manente-Powell with a gun.


A doorbell camera recorded parts of the altercation. In the video, Zelenski is seen handing the gun to Powell and ordering her to point the gun at her son. At one point Powell gave the gun back to Zelenski.


Manente-Powell challenged Zelenski to a fight and told him to “put the gun down and fight like a man.”


A witness heard a gunshot a little after 10 p.m. and looked out the window to see Powell and Zelenski "calmly" sitting in a car with a “lump” behind the car. The witness initially thought someone was struck by the vehicle. The witness ran outside and saw it was Powell’s son, who she knew, and began screaming at Zelenski and Powell to help him.


“They did nothing but look at him lying there bleeding,” the criminal complaint alleges.


Zelenski called 911 and reported he was attacked and he shot Manente-Powell in self defense. Manente-Powell was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. Zelenski was arrested at the scene and Powell was arrested the next day.


Tody was also charged for his role in the theft. The stolen reptiles were returned to Zelenski’s wife the next day.


Officers recovered a shotgun, 112 rounds of unspent ammunition, an ammunition belt with 14 unspent shotgun shells, six knives, two pairs of handcuffs, a hammer, a baseball bat and a pick ax from the vehicle Zelenski was driving.


Tody was convicted of party to the crime of theft. He’ll be sentenced in January.


Zelenski remains incarcerated on $1 million bond. His case is scheduled for a status update in February.


Powell’s sentencing date has not yet been set. She faces up to 12 and a half years in prison for recklessly endangering safety and up to 10 years in prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm, in addition to fines of up to $25,000 on each charge.

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