Cold case death of Bertha Reynolds resolved with 30-month sentence

Irene R. Reynolds, who was arrested 17 years after her 60-year-old mother was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in her home on Laurel Avenue in Norwich, declined to address the court Wednesday as she was sentenced to 30 months in prison for second-degree manslaughter.

Reynolds, 41, a married mother of three children, has been in prison since May 2010 and is expected to be released within days now that her case has been resolved.

Reynolds has never publicly admitted to killing Bertha Reynolds on July 9, 1993, a fact that bothers her father, Jim Reynolds, who with his wife adopted Irene Reynolds as an infant. The father said he was a suspect in his wife's death until 2006 and had a hard time collecting on a life insurance policy he had on his wife.

"Just for simple robberies, people do more time," Jim Reynolds said of his daughter's 30-month prison sentence.

Still, he said he was glad that the case was "over with." Reynolds had taken custody of one of his daughter's children, a severely handicapped 26-year-old man, while she was incarcerated.

Irene Reynolds was charged with murder in 2010 after the Southeastern Connecticut Cold Case Unit revived the unsolved beating and strangulation death of Bertha Reynolds. In opting to go before a jury, she had turned down an offer from State's Attorney Michael L. Regan to plead guilty in exchange for a 10-year prison sentence.

Her attorney, Linda J. Sullivan, filed a speedy trial motion this fall, forcing the state to start trying the case within 30 days. In December, in the midst of jury selection, the state offered Reynolds the option of pleading no contest to manslaughter in exchange for a 30-month prison sentence.

State's Attorney Michael L. Regan said the state encountered some of the problems "inherent with a cold case" as it prepared for trial. The state forensic laboratory had lost evidence, including hairs that were found on Bertha Reynolds, Regan said. Witnesses' memories had faded, the time of death was at issue and the medical examiner who handled the case was unavailable to testify. Also, Regan said, a laboratory examiner who had worked the case had since moved to Thailand and did not want to return to the United States to testify at the trial. There were also issues with witness credibility, Regan said.

"I can't say this (sentence) is appropriate for the crime, but I can say it's appropriate for what the state of the state's case is," Regan said. He noted that Reynolds had a larceny conviction prior to being charged with her mother's death but has not been in trouble for the past 20 years.

Reynolds will be on probation for the next three years. Her husband, Joel Outlaw, said the family is excited she is coming home to their Baltic apartment and that he also expects her to be welcomed back into the community.

Sullivan, Reynolds' attorney, said Reynolds has been "a model prisoner" and is a good parent.

Judge Susan B. Handy said the outcome of the case is "a just compromise."

"Clearly, none of us know what happened in 1993, except we know your mother died," she told Reynolds.

Witnesses told police that Irene Reynolds and Bertha Reynolds had fought over money prior to Bertha Reynolds' death. She was found on the basement floor, at the bottom of the staircase, with a pillow under her head and her feet resting on the stairs.

Kim Stone, a friend of Irene Reynolds, told police years after the fact that she had witnessed the murder that afternoon. She said that after Irene Reynolds refused to pay $100 that she owned Bertha Reynolds, the mother opened the door and signaled for the daughter to leave the home.

Stone said Irene pushed her mother, causing her to fall backward onto the floor in the master bedroom. She said Reynolds got on top of her mother and started hitting and punching her, then grabbed a brass lamp from the living room and smashed Bertha Reynolds in the head with it.

After the attack, Stone said, Reynolds drove to a nearby package store and bought beer.

k.florin@theday.com

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