Irene R. Reynolds, charged with murder 17 years after her mother was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in her Norwich home, pleaded no contest to a reduced charge Monday and will be released from prison following her sentencing in February.
Reynolds, a 41-year-old mother of three and longtime newspaper carrier, will be sentenced Feb. 13 to 30 months in prison for second-degree manslaughter.
She was scheduled to go on trial in New London Superior Court Monday for the beating death and strangulation of 60-year-old Bertha Reynolds on July 9, 1993. 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. A jury had been selected and testimony was scheduled to begin Monday.
But Regan said the state ran into several problems while preparing the case for trial. He and defense attorney Linda J. Sullivan renewed plea negotiations last week and formalized the deal Monday before Judge Susan B. Handy.
Regan cited missing physical evidence from the state forensic laboratory, the diminished memories of certain witnesses and the inability or difficulty in finding other witnesses. He said he would elaborate at Reynolds’ sentencing.
According to the state, Bertha Reynolds, who with her husband, James, had adopted Irene Reynolds as an infant, was found dead at the foot of her basement stairs in her home at 84 Laurel Hill Ave. in Norwich on July 9, 1993. The 60-year-old woman had a pillow under her head when she was discovered and her feet were propped on the stairs. Her face was bloodied. The state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled she had died of blunt force trauma and ligature strangulation.
The Southeastern Connecticut Cold Case Unit revived the investigation a few years ago and charged Irene Reynolds after speaking with a one-time roommate of Reynolds who said she had witnessed the killing. Kim Stone told the investigators she saw Irene Reynolds beat her mother with her hands and a floor lamp until Berha Reynolds was no longer moving, Regan said. Stone, who had been interrogated several times over the years, admitted she had lied in the past.
Reynolds, who has been incarcerated at the Janet S. York Correctional Institution while awaiting trial, wore a white T-shirt and gray sweatpants to court and had her long hair pulled into a ponytail. She calmly answered a series of questions that Handy posed to ensure she understood the last-minute plea deal.
Once Handy accepted Reynolds’ plea, her attorney asked the judge to reduce Reynolds’ bond from $1.5 million so that her client could be released from prison right away.
Sullivan said Reynolds, who was arrested in May 2010, has served more than her sentence of 30 months in prison. She said Reynolds has a severely handicapped son who has been in foster care since her arrest and a 10-year-old son. Sullivan asked the judge to at least allow Reynolds to go home for the holidays.
Reynolds’ husband, Joel Outlaw, begged the judge to release his wife.
“We need her at home,” he said. “It’s been very hard for us.”
Handy denied the motion.
“I am not unsympathetic to the fact it’s been difficult for the family,” the judge said. “That is not a reason for me to reduce the bond.”