Wash. prosecutor weighing charges in 1998 death

AP News
Posted: Oct 20, 2011 10:23 PM
Wash. prosecutor weighing charges in 1998 death

A county prosecutor said Thursday that he is still weighing 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 has spent more than a day reviewing evidence in the case. He hoped to complete his review Friday and make a decision.

"I'm exhausted," Meyer said Thursday night. "Once I've had a chance to review everything, I'll be in a position to process it."

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

Neither has been arrested, Meyer said.

A coroner that led the inquest, Warren McLeod, said he would issue arrest warrants in the case, although officials declined to say Thursday whether that had happened. Still, if Meyer doesn't file criminal charges against the men, they could be released after their arrest.

Meyer said he's reviewing the matter just like any other case that would be brought to his office and wants to make sure that he's considered everything, noting double jeopardy laws mean prosecutors can't stumble in their first attempt at a case.

"I understand the sense of urgency some people have," Meyer said. "I have the sense that it has to be done right. That's my concern."

The case has taken a circuitous and apparently unprecedented route to the prosecutor's office. 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 she eventually won a ruling that year that the coroner's office was wrong to label the case a suicide.

The current coroner called an inquest that heard evidence in the case this past week. On Wednesday, jurors unanimously concluded that Reynolds died of a homicide. Jurors also determined the husband and stepson were responsible, although they didn't specify why they reached their unanimous decisions. Jury members declined comment as they left the courthouse.

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

The former coroner initially listed Ronda Reynolds' cause of death as "undetermined," but changed it months later to "suicide" at the insistence of Ron Reynolds' lawyer. Among the evidence that cast doubt on whether the death was a suicide was that the bullet that killed Reynolds was at an odd angle for a self-inflicted wound and that the gun was found between a pillow and her head but the pillow had a bullet hole.

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