SEATTLE — The Lewis County prosecutor said Thursday there isn’t enough evidence to seek charges against the husband and stepson of a former Washington state trooper who died in 1998, despite the recent findings of an inquest jury.
Ronda Reynolds’ death was originally ruled a suicide, but her
mother spent a decade pursuing the case and trying to clear her daughter’s name. An investigation led to the inquest, and a jury last week ruled her death a homicide.
But prosecutor Jonathan Meyer said most of the testimony and evidence offered at the inquest was hearsay and conjecture, which wouldn’t be admissible if the trooper’s husband, Ronald A. Reynolds, and stepson, Jonathan A. Reynolds, faced a criminal trial.
“I can’t go forward,” Meyer said during a news conference in the Lewis County Law and Justice Center, the Daily News of Longview reported. “I have to have substantial evidence to convict.”
Ronda Reynolds was in the process of breaking up with her husband when she was found dead from a gunshot wound on Dec. 16, 1998. Her husband told investigators he found his wife’s body that morning under an electric blanket in their walk-in closet off the bedroom of their Toledo home, about 105 miles south of Seattle. He told authorities he didn’t hear the gunshot and wasn’t involved in the death.
Among the evidence presented at the inquest 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.
Testimony at the coroner’s inquest included the results of experiments that looked at things like how a gun would fall. Experiments by witnesses would not likely be admissible in a trial, and neither would witness theories, Meyer said.
He also based his decision on the plausible and reasonable defense that the Reynolds men would likely offer: that Ronda Reynolds took her own life that night, Meyer said. There is some evidence to suggest she was murdered, as the inquest jury ruled, but there is also evidence to suggest she killed herself, he said.
“That is not to say that I dispute the inquest jury’s findings,” he said, adding that the law gives an inquest jury a relaxed standard of evidence admissibility. The standard required for a criminal conviction is the highest standard in the law, he said.
Meyer said he would consider changing his decision if new evidence comes to light.
“Just because I’m not charging them today doesn’t mean my mind can’t be changed,” he said.
His next step is to sit down with the sheriff to discuss some ideas Meyer has for further investigation. His office is committed to looking at all old cases and seeing what new evidence has come up.
“People deserve answers,” Meyer said. “And at the same time, I need to try to ensure that justice is done.”
Ronald Reynolds, an elementary school principal, has been placed on administrative leave.
The former trooper’s mother, Barbara Thompson of Spokane, said she was disappointed in the decision but not surprised.
“I’m OK,” she said. “I’m ready to live my life for me.”
Even though Thompson would like to see an arrest and conviction in the case, she said the inquest jury’s ruling is “a very big moral victory.”
Also, the Lewis County coroner was expected to announce Friday that he’s changing her daughter’s death certificate from “undetermined” to “homicide.” That will be another victory, Thompson said.