Suicide or Murder? County Court to Review Decade-Old Death Certificate

Discussion in 'Ethics, Morality, & Justice' started by Tiassa, Apr 20, 2009.

  1. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    A curious and morbid case is coming to a head in rural Washington state.

    In 1998, a 33 year-old former state trooper, Ronda Reynolds, was found dead in her bedroom closet with a gunshot wound to the head. The death was ruled a suicide.

    Her mother, Barb Thompson, cannot live with that ruling to this very day. For over ten years, Thompson has sought to prove that her daughter was murdered.

    She now will get her day in court.

    Under a never-before-used state law, Thompson has won the right to have a Thurston County judge evaluate the case and, if Thompson has her way, possibly change Reynolds' death certificate. It's such an unprecedented legal move that the judge has to make up the rules.


    The sheriff and coroner in Lewis County are not pleased, claiming that Thompson has been manipulated and victimized by her supporters, who encourage her in pursuit of a political agenda. Sheriff Steve Mansfield's view is clear: "What a bunch of morons."

    And that would include the department's former lead detective, who eventually quit his job over the case:

    Ronda Reynolds had been married not quite a year when her life ended in the early morning of Dec. 16, 1998. Her husband, Ron Reynolds, the principal of the local elementary school, called 911 and calmly reported that his wife had committed suicide.

    Jerry Berry, a veteran detective of the Sheriff's Office, was called to handle it.

    He found Ronda Reynolds' body in a large bedroom closet, covered with a plugged-in electric blanket. A pillow had been covering her head.

    Berry learned that Ron and Ronda Reynolds were splitting up. Ron Reynolds told police that his wife had made suicidal threats the previous night. So they got in bed together and stayed awake until about 5 a.m., when they both went to sleep, he said.

    Ron Reynolds said he woke about an hour later and discovered her body. She was dead, covered in blood. A revolver was lying against her forehead. He said he hadn't heard a gunshot.

    Then the red flags started flying, Berry says.

    The bullet wound, in front of her right ear, didn't line up with any natural angle for a self-inflicted gunshot, given the way her hands and the gun were found, Berry says. There was a bullet hole through the pillow. But the gun was found between the pillow and her head.

    The condition of her body indicated she likely had been dead for hours before 5 a.m., Berry says. And contrary to Ron Reynolds' account, his wife's side of the bed hadn't been slept in.

    The rest of the room gave Berry the impression that Ronda Reynolds had been preparing to leave — alive.

    The Yellow Pages were open to the airline listings. The day before, she purchased a plane ticket to Spokane, where her mother lives. A longtime friend was coming to pick her up that morning and take her to the airport.

    And on the bedroom mirror, in lipstick, there was a note from Ronda Reynolds to "call me" at a phone number in Spokane.

    That was only for starters. Berry now says he found dozens of inconsistencies.


    Berry said that everything Ron Reynolds told him conflicted with the evidence. "The more I dug into it," he said, "it just didn't fit any suicide I'd ever seen in my life."

    Originally, the coroner, Terry Wilson, listed the cause of death as "undetermined", but Ron Reynolds' lawyer wrote the office demanding that the case be closed as a suicide. Eventually, Wilson changed the cause of death. The sheriff ordered the evidence destroyed, and returned the instrument of death, a .32 revolver, to Ron Reynolds.

    Berry doesn't see any specific conspiracy on behalf of a suspect, but rather a department's need to make a botched investigation go away.

    A former Lewis County police officer and firearms instructor examined what evidence remained, performed certain unspecified tests, and has attempted to refute the suicide ruling. He even ran in the 2002 election to become the coroner, but lost.

    Meanwhile, Sheriff Mansfield, who has run the department since 2005, admits the case is unusual, but blames Thompson's supporters for dragging out the process. He said that the suicide ruling would remain unless he receives "new, clear and substantial information". It's a safe stance, politically speaking, since most of the evidence is long-destroyed and there is only one known witness. But he also said that his detectives have recently investigated new information, declining to comment on the details.

    A 2006 review of the case by the state Attorney General's Office noted several mistakes about the investigation, but decided Ronda Reynolds' death was a suicide. Thompson claims the Sheriff's Office was not entirely forthcoming for the AG's investigation.

    The law that brings this to court was enacted in 1987, and opens coroner's rulings to judicial review, but in over twenty-one years, nobody has brought a case this far.

    And if everything else wasn't strange enough about the case, it will be heard by Thurston County Superior Court. Apparently, every Lewis County judge has recused.

    With no precedent, Judge Richard Hicks is trying to figure out how to proceed. There may be a jury, and Thompson is arguing for the calling of witnesses. Coroner Wilson's attorney is working to keep his client off the stand.

    Perhaps most tragically, even if Ronda Reynolds' death was a murder, and even if Barbara Thompson wins her case, it is extremely unlikely that anyone would be held accountable for the crime. Too much time has passed, evidence has been destroyed, and even if a suspect could be brought to trial, it would be difficult to convince a jury to convict someone of a murder when the sheriff and coroner refuse to acknowledge a homicide.

    This should be interesting. Or it could be anticlimactic. For Washington state, this is undiscovered country.


    Ith, Ian. "Court to review 10-year-old suicide ruling". Seattle Times. April 20, 2009. Accessed April 20, 2009.
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  3. chris4355 Registered Senior Member

    hmm, I wonder what will happen.

    I agree with you, I doubt the guy will go to jail even if he did it.
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  5. draqon Banned Banned

    you write it as 100% hinting to us that Ron has done the deed...
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  7. draqon Banned Banned

    I don't think he did it. And I do agree that this is a political move.
  8. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    The question of the ruling itself

    Regardless of Mr. Reynolds, and acknowledging that Marty Hayes, the firearms instructor, eventually ran for office and used the case as a lever in his campaign, do you find any of the inconsistencies of the case—

    • Electric blanket (interferes with body-temperature and therefore time-of-death determination)
    • Condition of body (suggesting earlier death)
    • Bullet hole in pillow, gun between pillow and head
    • Statistically unusual bullet path
    • Determination that Ronda's side of the bed had not been slept in
    • No gunshot heard​

    — compelling enough to question whether the suicide ruling is accurate?
  9. draqon Banned Banned

    no gushot heard and earlier death are obviously linked together...meaning he was asleep long before anything happened or the body was brought in by someone else and she was shot somewhere else.

    Also she could have shot herself and drugged him before, so that he wouldnt interfear. She purposely made it look like the gun shot was unnatural with other evidence to make it seem like he did it.

    Wouldn't you think they would have checked for powder from gun on his shirt...which always leaves a residue after shot is fired.
  10. swarm Registered Senior Member

    No one fails to hear a 32 going off in the same room, or even the same house.

    I would say just on that one bit he his guilty.
  11. draqon Banned Banned

    if you are drugged you will not hear anything.
  12. draqon Banned Banned

    My hypothesis is that the real killer was the detective...he destroyed the case data...the electric blanket used there was far superior medical knowledge a school teacher could have. I believe that the detective is linked to her death directly.
  13. draqon Banned Banned

    Someone check please if Jerry Berry and Ronna Reynolds went to the same school together.
  14. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    As strange as it can be

    If Mr. Reynolds was asleep long before anything happened, that only drags him into suspicion because if they "got into bed together and stayed awake until 5 am", and the condition of her body suggests she was dead hours before then ....

    But the idea that the body was moved is a huge suggestion. While Berry said there were "dozens" of inconsistencies about the case, I would think that would have been one he mentioned. For the time being, I'm under the impression that the forensic data from the scene suggests the body had not been moved.

    That's pretty wild, I admit.

    I would think so. But it always amazes me, when I find myself so unfortunately trapped in front of an episode of CSI, how few killers in New York, Las Vegas, and Miami ever change their clothes or wash their hands.

    If the time of death is hours earlier than established, one could dispose of such evidence. But I'm not sure what will clear gunshot residue from the hands completely enough to escape detection by a vigilant forensic scientist; I'm pretty sure soap and water won't do it, but I don't know what will.

    Perhaps some of these details will emerge in court. A few things I would be fascinated to see from this process:

    • Berry's full list of inconsistencies
    • Fingerprint analysis of the weapon
    • Coroner's testimony re: "What were the factors that compelled you to revise your original ruling that the cause of death was undetermined?"
    • Outside expert analysis of time of death​

    This is just really, really strange.
  15. draqon Banned Banned

    Fingerprint analysis of the weapon? its his weapon after all.
  16. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Her prints as well

    Yes, but if she was shot by someone else, and the gun placed in her hand, fingerprint analysis could present a compelling argument based on how her fingerprints are arranged on the gun.

    Suicidal people often linger in the moment; if the barrel and cylinder are clean, and her prints are only on the trigger and grip, I would wonder about that. I would expect, as a general—but not infallible—rule that she would have handled the gun all over, possibly even with an appearance of affection, before shooting herself.

    Furthermore, if her prints are arranged in certain ways, it would suggest that she did not hold the gun while she shot herself, but rather that it was put into her hand after the fact. I mean, imagine of the only prints you get suggest that she held a gun in an unlikely manner for discharge.
  17. John99 Banned Banned

    how does someone sleep through a gunshot? well i guess they didnt feel like convicting a school principal so they bought the story.
  18. draqon Banned Banned

    a) she was not shot there

    b) he was drugged
  19. Anti-Flag Pun intended Registered Senior Member

    Obviously she shot herself and then moved the gun.
  20. swarm Registered Senior Member

    Yep she shot her self , then drugged him, got a pillow and blanket, watched Letterman and a couple old favorites on the TV for 5 hours and then went to the closet, covered herself and died.

    I hope you sharpen your thinking skills there dragon.
  21. draqon Banned Banned

    My hypothesis about him being drugged is that when she shot herself and after her husband woke up he moved the body because he was so terrified and perhaps did not know what to do.
  22. swarm Registered Senior Member


    Yes, I get it.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 23, 2009
  23. draqon Banned Banned

    And I get who my enemies are.

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