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Jury weighs charges in Tamaqua drug death

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    Kyle Merenda goes into the courtroom Monday. CHRIS PARKER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

Published June 12. 2018 11:38AM
UPDATE: Testimony has concluded in the trial of Kyle J. Merenda. Jurors are currently deliberating the five charges filed against Merenda in the 2016 death of Alexandria “Alex” Sienkiewicz, 23, of Tamaqua.
Jurors came out around 5 p.m. to tell the judge they had reached a unanimous verdict on one of the charges, and all but one juror agreed on the other four charges. The judge asked them to continue to deliberate in an attempt to reach a unanimous verdict.

“This stuff is strong,” Kyle J. Merenda warned Alexandria “Alex” Sienkiewicz as he handed five little waxed paper bags of a powerful painkilling drug, fentanyl, to her through the passenger side window of the car in which she was riding.

Hours later, Sienkiewicz’s mother found her 23-year-old daughter dead in her bed, a needle in her arm and five little waxed paper bags, one full and the others with residue of a white powder, nearby.

Two of the bags had smeared images stamped on them.

Prosecutors believe Merenda sold Sienkiewicz the fentanyl that killed her.

But Merenda’s defense lawyer argues it was someone else who delivered the deadly dose.

Merenda, 23, of Barnesville, was charged by trooper Joseph W. Hall of the Frackville barracks in the death of Sienkiewicz, a Tamaqua resident, on April 2, 2016.

Some conflicts emerged in testimony during the first day of Merenda’s trial on charges of drug delivery resulting in death, delivery of a controlled substance, criminal use of a communication facility and possession of a controlled substance.

It is the first time in Schuylkill County that a person charged with drug delivery resulting in death has come to trial.

The trial, before Schuylkill County President Judge William E. Baldwin, resumed today.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Nathan L. Boob is prosecuting the case because former chief public defender Michael J. Stine, who is now first assistant district attorney, represented one of Merenda’s two co-defendants in the Sienkiewicz case.

Merenda is represented by a court-appointed defense lawyer, Hank J. Clarke II.

The trial, day one

Boob called to the stand Merenda’s two co-defendants, Melanie L. Kropp, 26, of Mahanoy City, and Jonathan J. Seekins, 35, of Coaldale. Neither had been promised anything for their testimony against Merenda, they said.

Kropp, who recently completed rehab, testified that Sienkiewicz was “my best friend.”

Kropp, whose sister — Seekins’ fiancee — died of an overdose on Feb. 22, 2016, testified that she, Sienkiewicz, and Seekins had used drugs for three days at Seekins’ house before Sienkiewicz died.

It was a relapse for Sienkiewicz, who had struggled with her addiction after getting out of rehab in January.

Kropp testified that on April 1, 2016, she and Sienkiewicz drove through Lewistown Valley smoking marijuana. They wanted to do heroin, but neither had money. Kropp testified that Seekins called her about selling his phone — Seekins testified it was Kropp who called him — and the women went to Seekins’ house.

The three drove in Kropp’s car to Hazleton to sell Seekins’ cellphone for $120 and to buy heroin.

After they failed to get the drugs in Hazleton, Kropp said, Sienkiewicz texted Merenda, known as “Kilo,” using the Snapchat app. He replied that he had heroin.

They drove to Merenda’s house on Shady Lane in Barnesville, where he exchanged about bags of what the three believed was heroin for $120.

From there, testimony was conflicted about how many bags Seekins had given Kropp and Sienkiewicz.

Seekins gave Sienkiewicz two bags and testified he gave Kropp no more than seven. Kropp testified he had given her about 15 bags.

“I was a little greedy. I wouldn’t have given her 15 bags,” he said.

Some of the bags were stamped with red or blue smudged images, he said.

Kropp testified he gave Sienkiewicz five bags.

Seekins said he gave Sienkiewicz two bags in the car, and an additional two bags as she was leaving his house.

They returned to Seekins’ house, where he and Sienkiewicz injected the drug and Kropp snorted it.

Kropp and Sienkiewicz drove back to Tamaqua, where Sienkiewicz met with a friend, Ryan McDermott.

McDermott, 25, of Hanover Township, Luzerne County, testified he and Sienkiewicz had dated, then remained friends.

Both McDermott and Kropp testified they drove around in McDermott’s truck for about an hour, smoking marijuana.

McDermott dropped off Kropp at her car, which she had left in the Burger King parking lot in Tamaqua, then he took Sienkiewicz home at about 12:30 a.m. April 2, 2016.

He said he’s “pretty sure” she went into her house.

They texted back and forth until about 2:30 a.m., about Sienkiewicz’ struggles and McDermott’s offer to get marijuana for her.

Kropp testified she learned of Sienkiewicz’s death at about 11 a.m. April 2, 2016. She called Merenda, who told her to “just remember that I didn’t know anything,” she testified. He also reminded her, “I told you guys it was strong.”

Kropp said she called Sienkiewicz’ father that day.

“He told me that I killed his daughter,” Kropp said.

Kropp admitted to lying to police about the events.

“I wasn’t honest with my family about my addiction. I wasn’t going to be honest with anybody else,” she said.

She also admitted to confronting Seekins on Facebook about “running his mouth” about what had transpired.

Kropp admitted to deleting the Facebook posts and resetting her phone when she learned police were looking into both.

She testified that she “had heard there were other people” who gave Sienkiewicz drugs that night after McDermott took her home.

She mentioned the names of several people who live near Sienkiewicz.

Conflicts

Seekins’ testimony was much the same as Kropp’s, given the differences in the numbers of bags distributed.

Sienkiewicz’s parents, John and Tammy Sienkiewicz, both testified.

Tammy Sienkiewicz wept as she said they left their home in the late afternoon of April 1, 2016, to buy a ceiling fan and returned later that evening.

Their daughter, who had been sick with a cold, had called them that evening to tell them she was out with friends. She still hadn’t come home by the time they went to bed at 11:30 p.m.

Tammy went to wake her at about 11 a.m. the next day, only to find her kneeling on her bed, her head down and arms stretched out before her, a needle in her arm and the bags nearby.

“I touched her arm and it was ice cold. I started to scream, Alex is dead! Alex is dead!” she said.

When Alex relapsed about three weeks before, she had gotten the drugs from a Kyle Hoppes, she said.

John corroborated his wife’s testimony. His last words to his daughter when she called him that evening were, “I love you.”

John Sienkiewicz also said Hoppes tried to run him over with his car after he yelled at Hoppes for selling drugs.

That incident began after Hoppes stopped in front of his home April 20, 2016, pointed it out to a female passenger and laughed at him.

Hoppes pleaded no contest to the charges stemming from the incident.

Additional testimony came from pathologist Dr. Mary Pascucci, who testified Sienkiewicz died of a fentanyl overdose; forensic toxicologist Dr. Edward Barbieri, who testified that Sienkiewicz’s blood contained lethal amounts of fentanyl; state police forensic DNA analyst Chelsea Weaver, who said the bags found in Sienkiewicz’s bedroom had DNA from her, Seekins, and a third, unidentified person. They did not have Merenda’s DNA, she said.

Trooper Hall testified as to cellphone logs of all three; his testimony did not include the content of the calls or texts.

Hall also said downloaded information from the phones may not include all data, and that Snapchat information “disappears” quickly.

Hall testified that some of Kropp’s statements to police in the first of two interviews were not true.

“She was trying to minimize her involvement,” he said.

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