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Inquest rules 1998 death was homicide

CHEHALIS, Wash. – The 1998 shooting death of a former Washington state trooper was a homicide and the woman’s husband and stepson were responsible, an inquest jury concluded Wednesday.

The verdict drew gasps in a small Chehalis courtroom. It also ended a long campaign by Ronda Reynolds’ mother, Barb Thompson, of Spokane, to prove her daughter’s death was not a suicide, as it was initially ruled.

Jurors did not specify why they suspected Ronda Reynolds’ husband, Ronald Reynolds, and her stepson, Jonathan Reynolds. The jury’s rulings were unanimous.

Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod said he’ll issue arrest warrants within 24 hours for the men. They could not be reached immediately by telephone for comment.

The coroner’s office initially determined that the death was a suicide. The new coroner, McLeod, agreed to the inquest that began last week.

Thompson said the ruling was justice for her. The jury “found the courage to stand up and do the right thing,” she said.

“I’m ecstatic,” Thompson added. “I’m relieved that we do have a good judicial system.”

Ronda Reynolds graduated from Cheney High School in 1983 and enjoyed quick success as a State Patrol trooper in Western Washington. But by 1998, her marriage of less than a year was ending, and she eagerly planned a trip to Spokane for Christmas to visit her mother and grandmother.

She bought a plane ticket and arranged a ride, but Reynolds, 33, never arrived at Spokane International Airport.

Reynolds was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head in a closet in her Toledo, Wash., home in December 1998.

Thompson said Ronald and Jonathan Reynolds had built increasing hatred of her daughter in the year prior to her death, and Thompson always believed the case was a homicide.

She spent a decade demanding that the Lewis County sheriff and coroner investigate it as such. 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, under a state law that had never been used, she won the right to have a judge evaluate the case, and a jury that year ruled the coroner’s office was wrong to label the case a suicide.

“My job was to get homicide put on my daughter’s death certificate,” she said. “How they handle the suspects and how they prosecute them, that’s in the hands of the law.”

Thompson has been in Chehalis watching the proceedings and now plans to return to Spokane.

“It was a long journey, but it was definitely worth it,” she said.

Staff writer Chelsea Bannach contributed to this report.