Stolen Reptile Murder Trial: Victim described as ‘loving and mischievous’

Posted at 4:25 PM, June 23, 2023


WAUPACA, Wis. (Court TV) — The family of the 18-year-old whose death was the center of a murder trial in Wisconsin offered Court TV an exclusive statement in the hours before his accused killer was convicted.

William Zelenski and Tiffany Powell testify in court

William Zelenski was charged with intentional homicide in Ryelee’s death. Ryelee’s mother, Tiffany, pleaded guilty and is serving a prison sentence. (Court TV)

William Zelenski was found guilty of intentional homicide in the shooting death of Ryelee Manente-Powell, his girlfriend’s son. Zelenski had accused Ryelee of stealing more than $25,000 worth of exotic reptiles from him, including a $17,000 lizard and a baby Burmese python valued at $7,000.

READ MORE: WI v. William Zelenski: Stolen Reptile Murder Trial

Ryelee’s family, who had been present at the trial, told Court TV that they were not ready to speak on camera, but offered an exclusive statement remembering the young life lost:

“Ryelee was an incredibly special and complex person. He was 18 years old, barely a man, but a dedicated and loving father to his 2-year-old son.

Even as a young child, he was smart beyond his years, unexpectedly witty, loving and mischievous. He filled the room with laughter and sunshine, you just couldn’t stay upset when he was around. He had a way of making people he loved feel encouraged and hopeful about the future when they were down, strong and confident when they were weak, and loved and comforted when they felt alone.

He was generous and funny and had the biggest, most forgiving heart a person could have.”

A signed letter with a staement from Ryelee's family

The family of Ryelee Manente-Powell offered Court TV an exclusive statement. (Court TV)

Zelenski’s attorney argued during the trial that his client had been afraid of Ryelee, and submitted evidence suggesting that Ryelee had been using drugs. In the letter, Ryelee’s family said he was “troubled and struggling from a chaotic and dysfunctional upbringing. He battled with himself constantly between feeling trapped and destined to live the lifestyle his parents emulated, and wanting to change and give his son the kind of father he never had.

WATCH: Stolen Reptile Murder Trial: Victim’s Mother, Defendant’s Girlfriend Testifies

Ryelee’s mother is currently serving a prison sentence after pleading guilty to charges linked to the incident, including pointing a gun at him. As part of her sentence, she must attend counseling on the anniversary of her son’s death and discuss her role and behaviors in it.

The letter closed, “Ryelee was 18 years old. He wasn’t given the chance to change his life and become the man he wanted to be.” Ten people signed it on behalf of the family.

If he is convicted, Zelenski could face up to life in prison.