Barb Thompson has been here before: so close to closure on her daughter's death, only to find another door closed, another process to confront.
Thompson, mother of former state trooper Ronda Reynolds, has maintained a crusade since 1998, seeking to get a death certificate of "suicide" overturned and ultimately to find out responsibility for the death of her daughter. A five-person coroner's inquest jury on Wednesday not only ruled the death to be homicide but pointed to Reynolds' husband and stepson as suspects in the killing.
Satisfaction was short-lived: Friday morning (Oct. 21), Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod said he was reopening the inquest and suspending the process of issuing warrants for the arrest of the husband and stepson, Ron and Jonathan Reynolds. "This temporary suspension is to allow for the investigation and resolution of a legal issue that has come to light," McLeod said, without elaborating. The inquest is scheduled to reconvene next week. It was not stated whether a new jury would be impaneled or the existing jury continued.
Later Friday, Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan L. Meyer gave himself until Thursday (Oct. 27) to decide on how to proceed in the complex case. "Although I have spent numerous hours reviewing the case file and inquest materials I have not made a final charging decision into the death of Ronda Reynolds at this time," Meyer said in a news release. "I understand there is significant interest in this case from all involved. However, I will continue to use the methodical and diligent process that our office strives to use in making proper charging decision in every case we handle."
The decisions by the coroner and prosecutor leave Ron and Jonathan Reynolds free; local newspaper attempts to contact them on Thursday were not successful. For Barb Thompson, it was one more hill to climb.
Thompson, a quiet but gritty Spokane woman whom I met in October 2010 as we taped a radio interview, simply refused to believe that her daughter, 33 at the time of her death, would commit suicide, which had been the finding by the Lewis County sheriff and then-Coroner Terry Wilson. The coroner had originally ruled "undetermined" as cause of death, then changed it to "suicide" after pressure from a lawyer for Ron Reynolds.
Thompson convinced true-crime writer Ann Rule to get involved, and together they formed a formidable team combining Thompson's passion and grit with Rule's investigative experience and law-enforcement contacts. Rule's 2010 book, In the Still of the Night, built a case for homicide. That's where I came in.
One of my favorite retirement gigs is to interview authors on The Chuckanut Radio Hour, sponsored by friends at Village Books in Bellingham; the show airs monthly on a local low-power station, KMRE. We do a pretty good version of Prairie Home Companion; at least all our women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the productions are above average.
True-crime writers have never been my taste —or the Radio Hour's — but last year we had Rule and Thompson as guests, and I must say that if I am ever in really hot water, I would want that duo at my side. Rule is, as one might expect, media-savvy from years on the circuit, but Thompson is getting accustomed to being in the spotlight. She even wrote a short book of her own.
She comes across very low-key but there is a determination in her eyes that has allowed her to fight off the horror of having a child end up dead just at the moment she was about to break free from an untenable relationship. More than a decade after the death of her daughter, Thompson still bears the anguish, but she found the strength to pursue it until her daughter's name was cleared of the stigma of suicide. For Thompson the real point is the kind of person her daughter was, and the need for justice.
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