Sunday, January 31, 2010

Judge orders coroner to change ruling on state trooper's death


A judge has given the Lewis County coroner 10 days to remove the word "suicide" from the death certificate of former Washington state trooper - or else.

"Fail not to obey at your own peril," says a court order issued Friday by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks.

In 1998, trooper Ronda E. Reynolds was found dead in her home of a single gunshot to the head. Lewis County Coroner Terry Wilson ruled her death as a suicide at the time.

But in 2008, a KOMO investigation highlighted evidence and opinions from experts who believed that Reynolds did not take her own life.

In November 2009, after reviewing the evidence, a jury unanimously decided that coroner Wilson was wrong when he called the death a suicide.

The jurors based their decision on a number of inconsistencies in the case, including the position of the gun and the trajectory of the bullet, which did not match a finding of suicide.

But Wilson said he wouldn't change Reynolds' death certificate, and left the issue in the judge's hands.

Judge Hicks issued a ruling Jan. 9 that requires the coroner to remove "suicide" as the cause of death.

The judge's latest order requires Wilson to "reconsider all of the information and evidence available" and issue a new cause of death within 10 days."The jury found that your determination of 'suicide' is inaccurate," the judge's order says.

Under the latest ruling, the cause of death can't be suicide unless the coroner uncovers new evidence that outweighs the evidence considered by the jury.

The order does not require the coroner to list the cause of death as "homicide," but the jurors who reviewed the case had no doubts about it.

Jury forewoman Angel Hubbard said everyone on the jury thought the cause of death was homicide.

"I can say unanimously for all of us - we even talked about that - that we definitely felt it would not, it should not be undetermined, but (move) more towards homicide," said Hubbard.

Nevertheless, Hicks granted a request from Wilson's attorney, John Justice, that jurors' written speculation about the case being a homicide be stricken from the record.

Reynolds' mother Barb Thompson has been fighting ever since 1998 to remove the stigma of suicide from her daughter's name after the lead detective in the investigation outlined a number of inconsistencies in the case.

But she acknowledges that her fight may not be over. Wilson still has the opportunity to appeal this decision.

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