Wash. coroner reopens inquest on ex-trooper death

AP News
Posted: Oct 21, 2011 6:53 PM
Wash. coroner reopens inquest on ex-trooper death

A county coroner is reopening an inquest into the 1998 death of a former Washington state trooper, adding yet another twist to a long-running quest to determine how the woman died.

Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod cited an unresolved legal issue in announcing the move Friday, two days after a jury concluded Ronda Reynolds' death was a homicide.

Jurors determined Reynolds' husband, Ron, and stepson, Jonathan, were responsible for her death, leading McLeod to initially say he would issue warrants before Thursday evening. But he said in his statement Friday he is backing away from that for now.

"This temporary suspension is to allow for the investigation and resolution of a legal issue that has come to light," McLeod said. He did not specify what the legal issue was and did not respond to a request for comment.

The inquest is scheduled to reconvene next week.

Lewis County prosecuting attorney Jonathan Meyer has been reviewing the case to determine whether he will file criminal charges. Without charges, the men could be arrested under the inquest and then let go.

Meyer said in a statement Friday that he plans to announce a decision next week.

Ron Reynolds, who has been serving as principal at Toledo Elementary School, has been placed on administrative leave. Toledo School District Superintendent Sharon Bower did not specifically discuss the case but said in a statement that the main focus is to ensure that the school is a positive learning environment for children.

Ronda Reynolds' mother, Barb Thompson, said she was upset but not surprised that the coroner delayed the case. She has been pursuing the matter for a decade, trying to clear her daughter's name, and said she's become accustomed to unforeseen problems and delays.

"At this point, I just have concerns," Thompson said.

A 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.

Thompson always believed the case was a homicide and spent a decade demanding that it be investigated. In 2009, she relied on never-before-used state law to win a legal evaluation of the case. The evaluation eventually concluded the coroner's office was wrong to label the death a suicide.

McLeod convened the current inquest, and a jury heard evidence over several days. Jurors unanimously concluded Reynolds died of a homicide and determined the husband and stepson were responsible.

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.