Man not guilty in drug death
Tamaqua couple says jury failed to provide justice
POTTSVILLE — A jury on Tuesday found Kyle Merenda, 23, of Barnesville, not guilty on all counts related to the death of a 23-year-old Tamaqua woman.
Alexandria “Alex” Sienkiewicz died of acute fentanyl toxicity on April 2, 2016.
Deliberations were underway from about 2 p.m. to 6:40 p.m. At one point, a spokesperson for the jury said all were in agreement on one charge but, for another charge, a juror required the definition of reasonable doubt from President Judge William E. Baldwin.
Merenda had been charged with drug delivery resulting in death, delivery of a controlled substance, criminal use of a communication facility and possession of a controlled substance.
The case was the first drug delivery resulting in death case brought to a jury trial in the county.
Alex Sienkiewicz’s parents, John and Tammy Sienkiewicz, were visibly upset at the verdict.
“This jury is a complete farce,” John Sienkiewicz said outside the courtroom at the Schuylkill County Courthouse.
Earlier in the courtroom, he said, “Shame on you all.”
Tammy Sienkiewicz said she was “devastated.”
Reached by phone later in the evening, Tammy Sienkiewicz said, “This is a sad time for our community as a whole when those who know they are selling death to our loved ones get absolutely no punishment in the eyes of the law. Our justice system failed.”
She said they will “keep fighting” and helping others to prevent further tragedy.
“There is no justice and the jury is uneducated. I pray they never lose a child,” John Sienkiewicz said by text message.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Nathan Boob with the state Attorney General’s Office declined to comment.
Hank Clarke, Merenda’s attorney, said the jury did its job.
“You never know what is going to happen in a jury trial. Juries can often surprise you, and that is one of the benefits of the jury system because its fair, it’s open and it’s unpredictable.”
Clarke said he was happy with the verdict.
“I’m happy for my client that the system worked for him, but obviously my heart still breaks for that family because at the end of this trial their daughter is still gone, and the system as it stands hasn’t worked for her. The problem of addiction in this country is something that is completely underfunded and brushed under the rug sometimes. We’re in favor or stricter criminal justice enforcement, throwing people in jail, nonviolent drug offenders who are just addicts themselves and we don’t give them the help that they need, and they keep coming back into the system, and coming back, and I see them constantly because the addiction isn’t treated,” he said.
He added, “I am the father of an 18- and 16-yearold girl and I can’t imagine the pain and the grief that they are going through, and it’s something and I can’t imagine any parent would ever get over, so all I would say to them is that they are in my prayers.”
He said the lack of DNA evidence in this case helped his client. DNA samples were taken from four people to see if there was a match on the wax packages that contained drugs found in Alex Sienkiewicz’s bedroom.
“I think it was the DNA. I think the DNA was the central focus of our defense because when you have three unique signatures, two of them match and one of them is still a mystery and does not match my guy, that’s hard to get over,” he said.
Samples were taken from Merenda; Jonathan Seekins, Coaldale, who is also charged in death; and John and Alex Sienkiewicz. A DNA scientist testified Monday that DNA from Alex Sienkiewicz and Seekins could not be excluded as being on the bags.
Tuesday’s trial saw three people testify: state police Trooper Joseph Hall of the Frackville station, Melanie Kropp and Russell Nelson Jr. Both Hall and Kropp testified Monday. Hall clarified that what he stated was most likely a text message from Merenda to Kropp, who is also charged in Sienkiewicz’s death, was actually likely a phone call. A video was also played of a vehicle, which he said likely belonged to Ryan McDermott, a friend who dropped off Alex Sienkiewicz at 1 a.m. April 2. The blinking lights of another nearby vehicle were also seen in the video. Questions were also asked about how many bags were in evidence submitted. Hall said it could be between three and five. He said some of the bags that had contained fentanyl were ripped.
Nelson was asked numerous questions including who his drug dealer was. He would not say a name but said it was a man in Allentown. He claimed he was with Kropp and Alex Sienkiewicz on April 1. He said he was asked if he wanted Seekins’ cellphone, which would be later sold in Hazleton. He testified he didn’t want it. The $120 from the sale of the phone would have been used to buy drugs.
Kropp said she didn’t pick up Nelson as he had said on April 1. She also said he was confused about events. She also said that Merenda called her and she didn’t answer the phone so she would have his number.
Each side had the opportunity to make a closing statement. Clarke went first. “This case is all about credibility,” he said.
He said there were too many inconsistencies in Kropp’s and Seekins’ testimony.
“Without (Kropp’s) testimony, they don’t have the evidence to convict my client. That’s called reasonable doubt,” he said.
He said both Seekins and Kropp were “lying” in their testimony.
In his closing statement, Boob said Seekins and Kropp were not lying.
He questioned why Merenda and Kropp spoke for about 18 minutes at 2:25 p.m. the day Alex Sienkiewicz died. She was pronounced dead earlier in the morning.
“He (Merenda) can’t explain that physical evidence. That lets you know she is telling the truth,” Boob said.
Boob said she Kropp has no reason to lie.
“If she didn’t know a detail, she didn’t lie. She didn’t fill it in,” he said.
He reminded the jury that both Kropp and Seekins said Merenda, otherwise known as Kilo, sold the drugs when he was at his house in Barnesville when Alex Sienkiewicz, Kropp and Seekins went there for what they thought was heroin April 1.
He also addressed why Merenda’s DNA was likely not on the wax baggies.
“Mr. Merenda’s DNA is not on these bags because of the way they were packaged,” he said, adding there is no way to know if the bags submitted and tested were the drugs allegedly sold by Merenda April 1.
“This defendant sold this poison and it killed this young woman and he is guilty,” Boob said.