Prosecutor unsure on charges after Wash. inquest

AP News
Posted: Oct 20, 2011 1:36 PM
Prosecutor unsure on charges after Wash. inquest

A county prosecutor said Thursday that he has not yet decided whether to pursue criminal charges against two people whom an inquest jury has accused of killing a former Washington state trooper in 1998.

Lewis County prosecuting attorney Jonathan Meyer said he spent all night reviewing evidence in the case. He hoped to complete his review and make a decision before the two suspects make a court appearance _ adding that he wasn't leaning in either direction.

"I won't even consider it until I get to the end," Meyer said.

An inquest jury determined Wednesday that the death of former Washington State Trooper Ronda Reynolds was a homicide, not a suicide as initially believed. The jury also unanimously found that her husband, Ronald Reynolds, and her stepson, Jonathan Reynolds, were responsible for the shooting death.

A coroner that led the inquest is issuing arrest warrants in the case. But if Meyer doesn't file criminal charges against the men, they could be released after their arrest.

Jurors in a small courtroom in Chehalis, about 85 miles south of Seattle, didn't specify why they reached their unanimous decisions, and the jury members declined comment as they left the courthouse.

Reynolds' mother, Barb Thompson, always believed the case was a homicide, and she spent a decade demanding that that the Lewis County sheriff and coroner investigate it as such. In 2009, under a state law that had never been used, she won the right to have a judge evaluate the case, and a jury that year ruled the coroner's office was wrong to label the case a suicide.

Among the evidence that cast doubt on the death as a suicide was that the bullet that entered Reynolds' head was at a bizarre angle for a self-inflicted wound. Her body was in a bedroom closet and a pillow had been covering her head; the pillow had a bullet hole, but the gun was found between the pillow and her head.

The lead sheriff's detective on the case, Jerry Berry, told The Seattle Times in 2009 that inconsistencies quickly arose in Ron Reynolds' account of what happened.

Ron Reynolds told police that he and his wife were splitting up, and that she had made suicidal threats the previous night. So they got in bed together and stayed awake until about 5 a.m., he said. An hour later he woke up and found her body; he said he hadn't heard a gunshot.

Berry said she appeared to have been dead for hours before 5 a.m. _ and her side of the bed had not been slept in.

Other evidence suggested she had been preparing to leave alive. She bought a plane ticket to Spokane the day before, and scrawled in lipstick on the bedroom mirror was a message to "call me" at a number in Spokane.

Berry didn't believe the death was a suicide. He eventually quit the department after he was demoted for disobeying orders to drop the case.

Then-Coroner Terry Wilson listed Ronda Reynolds' cause of death as "undetermined," but changed it months later to "suicide" at the insistence of Ron Reynolds' lawyer. The inquest that concluded Wednesday was ordered early this year by the newly elected coroner, Warren McLeod.

Ron Reynolds, now the principal of an elementary school about 20 miles south of Chehalis, didn't immediately return a call for comment. It didn't appear that Jonathan Reynolds had a listed phone number.

Ron and Jonathan had built increasing hatred of Ronda in the year prior to her death, Thompson said.

The jury "found the courage to stand up and do the right thing," she said Wednesday.