A six-person inquest jury this fall will now decide the manner of Ronda Reynolds' death, which Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod recently changed from "suicide" to "undetermined" on her death certificate.
Reynolds’ case is perhaps Lewis County’s most infamous; it recently was detailed in a true crime novel by best-selling author Ann Rule.
In 1998, 33-year-old Reynolds was found dead in her Toledo home’s bedroom closet by her husband with a gunshot wound to her head and a blanket covering her.
The Lewis County Coroner’s Office originally ruled Reynolds’ manner of death as undetermined.
However, before McLeod took office this year, the coroner’s office over the years changed Reynolds’ manner of death three times — to suicide, to undetermined, and back to suicide.
Expert witness testimony in a 2009 civil hearing noted several pieces of evidence that showed it was unlikely Reynolds had shot herself. McLeod leaned on that evidence earlier this month when he decided to change the death certificate to undetermined.
However, after contemplating on whether to go further and change the manner of death again to one of three other options, "homicide," "natural," or "accidental," McLeod felt the burden should be a public process rather than his own and called for a coroner’s inquest to be convened and examine the facts surrounding Reynolds’ death.
McLeod said the inquest is to obtain an objective, non-partisan and independent opinion on the cause and manner of death while bringing all of the facts and circumstances of the case to light.
A six-person jury is expected to be put together and begin the inquest this fall.
Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel has been appointed as the special deputy coroner of Lewis County to facilitate and preside over the inquest.
Because Blasdel doesn’t anticipate bringing together an impartial jury in Lewis County, he anticipates the inquest will be conducted in another Western Washington county.
Blasdel, a coroner with 16 years’ experience, has conducted two other inquests in his career.
Blasdel figures the inquest will take less than a week to conduct.
The Lewis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office will appoint a special counsel to Blasdel for the inquest as well.
"The objective of the exercise is to remove the 'I don’t know,’ " Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor David Fine said, referring to the current manner of death listed as undetermined for Reynolds’ death certificate. "I do know there’s a tremendous amount of evidence — it’s a jury that’s going to decide this."