By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
Jerry Berry, homicide. Gordon Spanski, suicide. David Bell, homicide. Laurie Hull, don’t know. Catherine Huttula, suicide.
Five witnesses during yesterday’s session of the coroner’s inquest were asked what their opinion is now about the December 1998 death of former trooper Ronda Reynolds.
They ranged from the lead investigator and the then-undersheriff to a longtime gentleman friend, a close girlfriend and the ex-wife of Ron Reynolds.
Yesterday, the inquest jury heard testimony about a Toledo teenager who gave his mother bloody clothing to launder about two weeks after the death.
He said it belonged to his friend, former detective Berry related to the jurors.
Berry, who was testifying by telephone from his home in Texas, recounted interviews he conducted in early 2010, long after he left the employ of the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, while he worked as a private investigator.
Berry spoke with the man, Joshua Williams, during a series of jail house meetings in which he was told Williams and others were at the Reynolds’ boys’ house, hanging out, playing video games and partying the night before Ronda Reynolds was found dead.
Jonathan Reynolds had asked Williams previously to kill Ronda Reynolds, Williams told Berry.
Williams said his best friend, Jason Collins, was the one who did it and showed up later at Williams travel trailer asking for clothes to wear.
“He stated when Jason came in, he stated quote, it is done, end quote,” Berry recounted.
Williams said he brought the bottle of Black Velvet whiskey to the Twin Peaks Drive home.
Belinda Rodriguez, Williams’ mother, testified yesterday her son was trying to strike a deal because he was going to prison and he couldn’t handle the burden of the secret any longer.
But both Williams and Collins were then interviewed by sheriff’s detectives and passed polygraph tests, Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod told the detective during yesterday’s proceedings.
McLeod asked Berry how he reconciled some of the inconsistencies, and Berry replied that most were chronological differences, which could be explained because the boys were using drugs.
Do you still believe this was a homicide? McLeod asked Berry.
As far as he’s concerned, beyond a reasonable doubt, it is, Berry replied.
“It is my opinion, it is absolutely murder,” Berry said.
Rodriguez, the mother and nearby neighbor of the Reynolds’, also related something she said she tried to report to the sheriff’s office days after the death, but couldn’t get her phone calls returned.
Early on the morning of Dec. 16, 1998 – about 6:30 a.m. – she was on her way to work when she saw a Ford Taurus and a small pickup peel out of the Reynolds’ driveway.
They stopped on the side of Drews Prairie Road and she heard yelling, she said. She saw Jonathan Reynolds being shaken by the shoulders by his older brother, Micah Reynolds, she said.
Also testifying yesterday was Catherine Huttula, Ron Reynolds’ ex-wife.
She confirmed her ex-husband had phoned her on Dec. 15, asking about possible reconciliation.
Huttula knew Ronda Reynolds previously, as they were in the same religious group, she said. They were friends when she was married to Ron Reynolds and when Ronda was married to Mark Liburdi, she said.
What do you believe happened to Ronda? McLeod asked.
“I believe she committed suicide,” she said.
Two close friends who spent time with Ronda Reynolds the day before her death spoke of her packing up belongings because Ron Reynolds had asked her to move out.
Laurie Hull helped drain the Reynolds’ waterbed, which apparently later was put back together when Ronda Reynolds’ decided not to leave that evening.
She didn’t see a broken fingernail on her friend’s otherwise manicured hands, Hull said.
Hull last spoke to Ronda Reynolds on the phone around 10:30 p.m. She sounded calm, not upset as she had been that afternoon, Hull said.
David Bell, a Des Moines police officer who had known Ronda Reynolds about 10 years, told the inquest jury yesterday of going to the Toledo house around 7 p.m., as she had asked him to help her move.
“She was all packed up when I arrived, she was crating her dogs up to put in my truck,” Bell said.
He was there about a half an hour before they drove to Winlock to drop off some keys and made a stop at Marys Corner, he said.
She had thought she’d come stay at his place, but he told her that wouldn’t work, Bell said. So about 9 p.m., he returned her to the Toledo house.
Ron Reynolds was just walking in, he said. Bell said he spoke to her on the phone twice after midnight. She wanted him to give her a ride to the airport the next day.
Ronda Reynolds had a ticket to fly home to Spokane.
Read more about the inquest:
• “No fingerprints found on gun, ammo in Reynolds’ death” from KOMOnews.com on Wednesday October 12, 2011 at 6:19 p.m., here