Not guilty: Father of Tamaqua woman who died says Schuylkill ‘jury is a farce’
Kyle Merenda goes into the courtroom Monday. CHRIS PARKER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
After four-and-a-half hours of deliberation, a Schuylkill County jury on Tuesday found a Barnesville man not guilty of drug delivery resulting in death and related charges.
“Shame on you,” a man shouted immediately after the verdicts were announced.
The parents of Alexandria “Alex” Sienkiewicz, the young woman who took a lethal dose of the powerful painkiller fentanyl authorities say Kyle J. Merenda, 23, sold to her, gasped and then wept on hearing the verdict.
Anger erupted among Sienkiewicz’s family and supporters at the verdict.
“The jury is a farce,” a furious John Sienkiewicz said as he stormed from the courtroom.
His wife, Tammy, distraught, was comforted by friends.
Defense lawyer Hank J. Clarke said his client was happy with the verdicts.
“I believe the criminal justice system worked for my client. However, my hearts still breaks for that family, a young girl taken away because of the scourge of opioid addiction,” he said.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Nathan L. Boob, who prosecuted the case, declined comment.
After listening to a day of prosecution testimony on Monday and several minutes of defense testimony on Tuesday morning, the jury of nine women and three men began deliberations at 2:07 p.m.
At 4:35 p.m., they stopped, saying they had a “dilemma.”
The problem was that all had agreed on one charge while all but one had agreed on the remaining counts.
President Judge William E. Baldwin urged them to return to deliberations.
“Talk it over some more,” he told them. “Consult with one another and try to resolve your differences.”
They did just that, talking over dinner.
At 5:30 p.m., they broke again to ask Baldwin to define “reasonable doubt.”
He read them the legal definition, and they returned to deliberations.
They reached their verdicts at 6:42 p.m.
According to testimony and police, Sienkiewicz, 23, along with Jonathan J. Seekins, 35, of Coaldale and Melanie L. Kropp, 26, of Mahanoy City, traveled to Merenda’s house at 57 Shady Lane to buy 50 bags of heroin the night of April 1, 2016.
Merenda, known as “Kilo,” warned them. “This stuff is strong,” both Kropp and Seekins testified.
The next morning, Sienkiewicz’s mother, Tammy, found her dead on her bed, a needle in her arm and small waxed paper drug bags nearby.
Boob called the state trooper who charged Merenda, Joseph W. Hall of the Frackville barracks.
Hall said telephone records showed a two-second phone call from Merenda to Kropp at 11:21 p.m. April 1, 2016.
Kropp had testified that after Merenda handed the drugs through a car window to Sienkiewicz, she asked him to send her his number so she could call him for future drug buys.
“I gave him my number and he called me,” she said.
She did not answer the call.
Kropp testified Monday that she called Merenda on April 2, 2016, after learning of Sienkiewicz’s death.
In that 17-minute call, Merenda said, “I told you that stuff was strong. Don’t tell anybody where you got it’,” she said.
Defense lawyer Hank S. Clarke argued it was an accidental “butt dial.”
Hall also identified the small waxed paper bags found near Sienkiewicz’s body, one containing fentanyl and the others with residue.
Because the bags were torn, it was impossible to determine exactly how many bags had been used. It could have been anywhere between three and five, he said.
Hall also said that addicts keep used bags to glean the residue. Sienkiewicz had used two bags at Seekins’ house the night of April 1, 2016, and took two bags home.
Clarke called Russell J. Nelson Jr., who claimed he was with Kropp, Seekins and Sienkiewicz the evening of April 1, 2016. He said they picked him up in Mahanoy City and drove him back to Rowe Street in Tamaqua.
Kropp and Seekins both denied in earlier testimony under questioning by Clarke that Nelson was with them.
Kropp testified he was not with them that night, but was with her the night before.
Nelson, 37, who is in the county jail awaiting court action on drug-related charges, admitted he was using methamphetamine heavily at the time.
Boob asked him who his dealer is.
“That’s irrelevant,” Nelson replied.
Pressed by Baldwin to answer the question, Nelson said it was a “guy from Allentown” whose name he didn’t recall.
Nelson admitted to knowing Merenda, but said they weren’t friends.
Clarke planned to call another man as a witness, but getting him from the state prison in Coal Township to the courthouse was problematic, and the man did not testify.
Clarke aimed to discredit Kropp and Seekins, who both said they were recovering addicts.
Clarke said Kropp lied to police and suggested she was “hiding something” by denying Nelson was with them on April 1, 2016.
Seekins’ answers, Clarke said, didn’t match up to Kropp’s.
“The problem is that they’re lying,” he said.
He also suggested the three actually got the drugs not from Merenda, but from a Hazleton dealer known as Omar.
He also pointed to DNA tests on the bags that showed Seekins, Sienkiewicz and an unknown third person had touched them. Merenda’s DNA was not on the bags, he said.
Boob rebutted that, saying the 50 bags were stacked, and that Merenda would have touched only the ones on the bottom and top of the stack. Those bags may not have been the ones Sienkiewicz had.
In his closing argument, Boob reinforced the argument that Merenda targeted addicts struggling with recovery by reading a poem written by Sienkiewicz.
“They say staying positive will help you get through
So you push and you fight until you’re alone in your room.
That’s when I creep in and mess with your head
I’ll keep you down — heart heavy as lead.
… I’m the devil on your left, sitting on your shoulder
Soon the angel on your right will take over.
Eternal peace is not hard to find
I’m that relapse, forever on your mind.”