Barb Thompson is held by a friend in the courthouse after the inquest jurors' decision about her daughter's death was announced. / Courtesy photo by Bradd Reynolds
This was updated at 8 p.m., 9:30 p.m. and 11:59 p.m.
By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – An arrest warrant will be issued within the next 24 hours for Toledo Elementary School Principal Ronald A. Reynolds and his son, Jonathan A. Reynolds, the coroner said late this afternoon.
The pair were named today as responsible for the homicide of former trooper Ronda Elizabeth Reynolds in the family’s Toledo home almost 13 years ago.
The announcement came at the end of a coroner’s inquest that began a week ago Monday in the courthouse in Chehalis.
Barb Thompson, who has been working since the end of 1998 to uncover the truth about her daughter’s death, was overwhelmed with the decision.
“What more could I ask for?” Thompson said. “It’s beyond any hope I had.”
The inquest jury of four women and one man were unanimous in their conclusions.
Thompson’s attorney shared a similar sentiment.
“Way back when, Barb said it’s a homicide, Marty (Hayes) said it’s homicide and it sounded convincing, but there were always these kinds of obstacles,” Royce Ferguson said. “I think the bungling of the sheriff’s office and their efforts to save face muddied the waters.”
Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer is at his office tonight, reviewing not only the sheriff’s office case file, but the evidence the inquest jurors saw and heard.
Meyer said he will be making a decision as soon as possible as to what action his office takes, meaning what, if any, criminal charges might be filed.
He has to be ready whenever the two are brought before a judge, he said.
“(I’ve talked with) all necessary parties and discussed all possible steps that could be taken from here,” he said.
What Meyer does know for sure, he said, is Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod must issue an arrest warrant and the accused must be brought before a magistrate, or judge, in Lewis County.
Calls for comment to Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield and his public information officer have not been returned tonight.
But Mansfield wrote on the sheriff’s office website the day the inquest began that the inquest’s outcome would not cause him to reopen their case or change its disposition in his office – suicide – unless clear and compelling new information arose.
Lewis County sheriff’s detective Sgt. Dusty Breen testified yesterday he felt the best determination the inquest jurors could make was an “undetermined” manner of death.
Breen also said although he leaned toward suicide, he was taking notes on items to follow up on.
Ronda Reynolds, 33, died with a bullet in her head in the home she shared with husband of less than a year, Ron Reynolds. She was found dead on the floor of a small walk-in closet, covered up by a turned-on electric blanket.
Ron Reynolds called 911 about 6:20 a.m. on Dec. 16, 1998 to say his wife committed suicide. His three young sons – including teenager Jonathan Reynolds – were allowed to leave as deputies arrived without being interviewed.
The sheriff’s office admitted to some mistakes, including the .32 caliber Rossi handgun being moved at the scene before photos were taken, although some testimony suggested they were lost. Jurors heard about evidence being destroyed or returned too soon.
Over the years, Ronda Reynolds manner of death was changed repeatedly by then-Lewis County Coroner Terry Wilson back and forth between suicide and undetermined as it was reinvestigated and then more recently underwent a judicial review.
Lewis County Coroner McLeod, elected last November, wanted to settle the matter on the controversial death by holding an inquest, something he doesn’t think has happened in Lewis County in the last 50 years.
Prosecutor Meyer, sat through the six and a half days of testimony, as did representatives from the sheriff’s office.
They were joined by even more of their co-workers when the verdict was read just after 4 p.m. by McLeod.
The inquest jurors findings noted Ronda Reynolds died of a contact gunshot wound to her right temple in the home at 114 Twin Peaks Drive on Dec. 16, 1998 between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., of homicide.
Less than a half hour later, the jurors returned with the conclusion she died at the hands of Ron Reynolds and his teenage son.
The outcome was exactly as it should be, said Sharon Mitchell of Morton who sat in on the proceedings.
“It should have happened years ago,” Mitchell said.
It wasn’t long before Thompson was surrounded by news cameras and reporters outside the courthouse doors.
The Spokane woman alternately teared up and smiled.
She said she was satisfied enough with the death certificate getting changed to homicide. She hopes the sheriff’s office follows through, although she has continued to be disappointed by them, except for Breen, she said.
“I don’t think that’s my job, and I have to move on with my life,” Thompson said. “That’s what you do.”
Asked about a motive, Thompson asked: “How much time do you have?”
She testified last week she believed Jonathan had a deep hatred for his step-mother, after an incident in which she was told he peeked at Ronda Reynolds in the shower, and she jumped out and tackled him.
Thompson said her faith in the system has been restored.
“It’s our peers, that’s why we have the jury system,” she said.
Ron Reynolds did not return a phone call made to his home for comment. Neither his or his son’s attorneys could be reached this evening.
Members of the news media swarm around Barb Thompson as she exits the courthouse. / Courtesy photo by Bradd Reynolds
For background, read the following:
Intro to Ronda Reynolds coroners inquest
“Coroners inquest into Ronda Reynolds death: Selection of jurors starts Monday”, here
Day one, Monday Oct. 10, 2011
“Coroners inquest into Ronda Reynolds death: Responders ponder, suicide or homicide”, here
Day two, Tuesday Oct. 11, 2011
“Coroners inquest: Detective reveals staged “suicide” statement from Ronda Reynolds”, here
Day three, Wednesday Oct. 12, 2011
“Coroners inquest: New investigation points to murder”, here
Day four, Thursday Oct. 13, 2011
“Coroners inquest: What the forensic experts say”, here
“Coroners inquest: Homicide experts disagree about Ronda Reynolds’ death”, here
Day five, Friday Oct. 14, 2011
Coroners inquest: Lie detector examiners testify”, here
“Coroners inquest: Mother of former trooper says it was murder”, here
“Coroners inquest: Crime scene reconstruction expert saw “earmarks” of suicide”, here
Day six, Monday Oct. 17, 2011
“Coroners inquest: What the sheriff’s office believes today”, here
Day seven, Tuesday Oct. 18, 2011
“Coroner’s inquest: Images inside the courtroom”, here
“Coroner’s inquest: Clues still coming in”, here
Day eight, Wednesday Oct. 19, 2011
“Breaking news: Decision reached in coroners inquest”, here
Background, Appeals Court on the judicial review
“Coroner’s appeal in Ronda Reynolds’ case heard by three-judge panel” from Friday June 17, 2011 at 7:53 a.m., here
“Breaking news: Coroner’s inquest for Ronda Reynolds’ death to move forward” posted Thursday July 7 2011 at 8:22 a.m., here
Background, the 2009 judicial review
“Jury finds coroner erred in ruling former trooper’s death a suicide”, here