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By DAVID WEISS dweiss@leader.net

Thursday, November 14, 2002     Page: 1A

WILKES-BARRE - The man wanted for questioning in Friday's shooting death of 16-year-old Casey Zalenski could have been arrested months ago after police said he sold drugs to an informant.
    But a warrant for Larry D. Tooley's arrest on those charges wasn't issued until Friday, hours after Zalenski was found dead in his Demunds Road home in Franklin Township.
    Luzerne County First District Attorney Joe Carmody on Wednesday said a delay in arresting someone on drug charges is regularly done as an investigative practice, he said.
    Officers say an arrest is sometimes delayed to protect an informant. Arresting a person soon after he sold drugs to an informant could reveal the informant's identity. Also, even if Tooley, who has a violent criminal record including a rape conviction, was arrested he might have posted bail and remained free.
    According to court papers, Tooley sold $150 worth of heroin to a confidential information in a home on Jenkins Court in Pittston on June 19. Pittston Police Chief Paul Porfirio declined to comment on the incident.
    Zalenski was shot Friday morning after a woman, identified as Tina Young, the family's former baby sitter, and a male entered the home apparently seeking money. Young has been charged with burglary in connection with the incident. Neither Young nor her boyfriend, Tooley, has been charged with the homicide.
    Zalenski and his 14-year-old brother, Tommey, were home at about 10:20 a.m. when two people entered the home.
    Tommey told police he heard a man tell Casey he wanted money. Tommey then heard a loud noise before the man threatened to kill Casey, police said. Tommey fled through an upstairs window before hearing another loud bang, possibly a gunshot, inside the home, police said.
    Luzerne County Coroner Dr. George Hudock Jr. on Wednesday said Zalenski was shot with a .32- or .38-caliber weapon. Tooley was charged Saturday with possessing a .38-caliber gun in New Jersey. The charges indicate it was illegal for Tooley to possess the weapon because he was previously sentenced under Megan's Law and because he knew the gun was stolen.
    The bullets struck Zalenski twice in the head and once in the chest, police said.
    The head wounds killed Zalenski, Hudock said, but any of the shots could have been fatal. It's unclear how long Zalenski lived after being shot.
    ``He didn't die instantly,'' Hudock said.
    Tooley and Young fled the area and were arrested Saturday in New Jersey on unrelated charges.
    Tooley's past includes an arrest in 1980 on a robbery charge, court officials said.
    While he was on bail for that arrest, Tooley was charged with rape, kidnapping and robbery. He was sentenced to 35 years on those charges, but eligible for parole in 15 years.
    In that case, police said Tooley abducted a 22-year-old secretary in Paterson, N.J. The woman was forced into a car and taken to an industrial park, where she was raped and then tied to a railing. A small amount of money was stolen from her, according to The Record in Bergen County, N.J.
    A New Jersey court official said Tooley was likely released from prison in the mid 1990s and discharged from parole in 2000.
    Carmody said Tooley's prior criminal record would have been listed in a police database, available for local officers to examine, but police did not inquire about Tooley's background, Carmody said.
    Tooley and Young will soon be picked up by local officers and brought back to Luzerne County, Carmody said. Both are held in a prison in Passaic County, N.J.
    David Weiss, a Times Leader staff writer, can be reached at 831-7397.
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