Man not guilty in drug death

Tamaqua cou­ple says jury failed to pro­vide jus­tice

The Republican Herald - - FRONT PAGE - By Amy mArchiAno Staff writer

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.

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