Waupaca County mom sentenced to prison for son’s death after reptile theft

Tiffany Powell
Tiffany Powell(Waupaca County Jail)
Published: Feb. 6, 2023 at 11:59 AM CST
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correction: Updated to correct a misspelling of Manente

WAUPACA COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - A Waupaca County woman has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for her role in the death of her son after he was accused of stealing thousands of dollars worth of reptiles.

Tiffany Powell, 37, appeared in Waupaca County Court Monday for a sentencing hearing for the death of Ryelee Manente.

Powell was convicted of 1st Degree Recklessly Endangering Safety and Felon in Possession of a Firearm.

A count of 1st Degree Intentional Homicide - Party to the Crime was dismissed but read into the record.

For the reckless endangerment charge, Powell was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 5 years of extended supervision.

For the firearm charge, Powell was sentenced to 5 years in prison and 3 years of extended supervision.

The sentences will be served consecutively, meaning back-to-back. Powell has 691 days of credit for time served.

One condition of supervision is meeting with an agent on the anniversary of Ryelee Manente’s death to “discuss your role and behaviors regarding his death.”

The killing of Ryelee Manente happened in October 2019.

William Zelenski had reported that several reptiles, guns, and alcohol had been stolen from his property in the town of Dayton. Zelenski said those reptiles included a lizard valued at $17,000 and a crocodile valued at $2,000. Some of these reptiles were known to be poisonous. A boa constrictor and pythons were also missing.

Zelenski said he had received a tip that the 18-year-old Manente and then-17-year-old Ashton Tody were responsible for the thefts.

On the evening of Oct. 19, officers responded to a fatal shooting. Zelenski called 911 and told the dispatcher he had confronted the victim. Zelenski claimed the victim had attacked him and he shot him.

Tiffany Powell, mother of Manente, told police that Zelenski had received information that her son was involved with stealing Zelenski’s reptiles. Zelenski set out to confront the victim. Powell said they spotted her son walking on the sidewalk and stopped to confront him.

Powell stated that her son “took off his shirt and said he wanted to fight Zelenski.” That’s when Zelenski grabbed a gun from his vehicle and shot him, according to the complaint.

Officers obtained doorbell video camera that captured the shooting. It shows Zelenski and Powell in a vehicle at the intersection of Van and Shearer Streets. There’s an altercation with the victim.

“At one point during the altercation, Zelenski was seen holding a long gun and then handing the long gun to Tiffany Powell. Zelenski was heard on the video telling Tiffany Powell to hold the gun on her son. The video then shows Tiffany Powell holding the gun and pointing it at VICTIM. The long gun was a double-barreled 12 gauge shotgun with two slugs in the chamber. At one point, Powell gave the gun back to Zelenski and VICTIM was heard yelling at Zelenski to put the gun down and fight like a man. Zelenski and VICTIM were seen circling each other in a fighting stance with Zelenski holding the long gun and the VICTIM unarmed,” reads the criminal complaint.

A witness reported hearing a gunshot and looking out the window. The witness saw Zelenski and Powell sitting in a car and “a lump of something directly behind his vehicle.” The witness ran outside and saw that it was the victim, who she knew very well. She described Powell and Zelenski were “very calm.”

The witness noticed that the victim was not moving and was bleeding heavily. The witness stated that Zelenski told her that he had shot the victim three times.

Evidence shows Manente was shot once, according to the complaint. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Another witness told officers that Manente fought with his mother on Oct. 17. The victim told the witness that his mother told him, “you’re dead to me.”

Police searched the car and found a 12-gauge shotgun (alleged murder weapon), handcuffs, knives, ammo, an axe, a hammer and other items.

William Zelenski is charged with 1st Degree Intentional Homicide for the killing of Manente. His case remains in the court system.

Ashton Tody was convicted of theft in this case. His sentencing is scheduled for February.