January 4, 2011 in City, News, Region

Coroner changes cause of death for slain trooper

Nancy Bartley Seattle Times
Dan Pelle photo

Barb Thompson’s daughter, Ronda Reynolds, a former Washington State Patrol trooper, died of a gunshot wound to the head in 1998.
(Full-size photo)

Barb Thompson, a Spokane woman who has spent years trying to prove her daughter’s death was not a suicide, has won a major victory.

Monday, Lewis County’s newly elected coroner, Warren McLeod, submitted an affidavit to change Ronda Reynolds’ death certificate from suicide to undetermined cause.

Reynolds, a Washington State Patrol trooper, was getting a divorce when she was shot in the head in December 1998. Her body was found in the closet of the family home in Toledo, Wash.

From the start, Thompson didn’t believe her daughter’s death was a suicide. Reynolds had been planning to leave her husband, after they’d been married less than a year, and return home to Spokane to see her mother the next day. The next thing Thompson knew, her 33-year-old daughter was dead.

Thompson began a campaign to change the listed cause of death. She got the support of numerous investigators who helped her without charge. Her quest resulted in a 2010 Ann Rule book, “In the Still of the Night: The Strange Death of Ronda Reynolds and Her Mother’s Unceasing Quest for the Truth.”

In 2009, a Thurston County Superior Court judge ruled that the coroner must change Reynolds’ death certificate from suicide and ruled that Coroner Terry Wilson had been “arbitrary and capricious” in making the ruling. Wilson, coroner until McLeod’s election last fall, appealed the decision.

McLeod said the judge had ordered the Lewis County coroner, not Wilson individually, to change the death certificate, so as the new coroner, McLeod made the change. Wilson was not available for comment.

McLeod said he also will investigate the entire Reynolds case, reviewing autopsy notes, interviews and other materials. He believes it will take him several months before he will issue a report.

“I think [McLeod] did exactly what he said he would do. I think he’ll write a determination that he thinks is the right thing to do,” Thompson said. “We’ll move forward from there.”

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