‘It was an accident,’ murder suspect testifies

Posted Nov. 06, 2008, at 8:21 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:03 a.m.

SKOWHEGAN, Maine — Richard Reynolds took the stand Thursday in Somerset County Superior Court in his own defense, claiming that despite 15 years of military service and expert marksmanship credentials, it was an accident when he shot his estranged wife nearly two years ago. He said he had gone to her residence to kill himself.

“I was scared, confused. I weren’t sure what the hell I wanted to do. Everything was upside down,” a crying Reynolds told the court. “It wasn’t supposed to be my wife that got hurt. I was.”

Reynolds, 41, is accused of shooting his wife in the head at her brother’s residence in Fairfield on Jan. 12, 2007, one day after she was granted sole custody of the couple’s sons, the day after Reynolds was presented with divorce papers, and after months of marital problems. Rhonda Wakefield-Reynolds, 37, died the next day.

In just more than two hours of testimony, Reynolds stuck to his story that the shooting occurred during a botched suicide attempt. If he can prove the shooting was accidental, he could be convicted of manslaughter, which would result in a prison sentence of fewer than 15 years. A murder conviction would net him 25 years to life in prison.

Throughout questioning by his defense attorney, Peter Barnett, Reynolds cried. He leaned over in the witness box and frequently held his head in his hands.

During cross-examination by Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea, however, he sat more upright, and flashes of anger were evident as Zainea several times used Reynolds’ own words against him.

Reynolds said that he was devastated when his marriage fell apart and that he had made a halfhearted suicide threat on Christmas Eve 2006. After that incident, he surrendered three guns he had at his Waterville home to his son Robert Brenner, yet still entertained suicidal thoughts, he admitted.

Reynolds’ life was “coming apart,” he testified. “I wasn’t around a lot. I worked all the time.” Reynolds said his wife had booked a cruise but they never took it. “I guess I didn’t pay enough attention.”

Four days before Christmas, Wakefield-Reynolds had left him and moved into her father’s home, taking their two young sons with her. Reynolds said he was convinced she was having an affair with a married man and was abusing drugs.

He did, however, repeatedly testify, “My wife was a good mother,” and said he loved her.

Then, in early January, Reynolds said, he had a confrontation with his father-in-law, Kempton Wakefield Sr., while picking up one of his children at school. Later that same day, Reynolds said, one of his sons disclosed that Wakefield had sexually molested him.

The claim so affected Reynolds that he said he was vomiting while making a complaint about Wakefield at the Fairfield Police Department. The police contacted the Department of Health and Human Services, and both boys were placed in foster care. “I felt betrayed by everything. Everything was closing in,” he said. Because Reynolds had a similar experience as a child, he said, he felt he had failed his boys by not protecting them.

An investigation later revealed no evidence of abuse.

Reynolds said that at a custodial hearing on Jan. 11 in Skowhegan District Court, his wife accused him of physically abusing and raping her. He admitted that he shouted out in court, “You’re lying,” and when he later lost all visitation with his children, “I was hurt and angry. I just lost everything, my wife, my kids. Why wouldn’t I be?”

Wakefield-Reynolds was required in open court to explain that because of the molestation investigation she would be moving to her brother’s home in Fairfield. Reynolds testified he heard her provide her address.

After the hearing, Wakefield-Reynolds picked up her sons and began moving belongings into her brother’s home.

Reynolds went to the home of his older son from a previous marriage and demanded his handgun, a semiautomatic .40-caliber pistol.

He testified that he felt “like the whole world was crushing in on me” and was scared. During one part of his testimony, he said he needed the gun to feel safe but later said he had intended to kill himself that night. He changed his mind because “I didn’t want my son to find me in the morning, dead.”

Reynolds said he left the gun in the car and stayed up all night. He didn’t eat. He didn’t sleep.

The next day, as Wakefield-Reynolds was feeding their sons breakfast, Reynolds left work to return home for a pair of gloves. He said he saw all the court paperwork on his kitchen table and thought, “What’s the use? My whole life revolved around my wife.” Reynolds wrote a note to his adult son, Robert, asking him to take care of the younger boys and saying, “I’m only doing what I think needs to be done for the safety of my children.”

He returned to his car and drove to Wakefield-Reynolds’ home.

While Wakefield-Reynolds turned on the living room television for her children, Reynolds hid his car behind a row of trees, secreted the handgun in his sweat shirt and walked through the back door of the home.

Reynolds testified that he was surprised to see his children there, thinking they would not be returned to his wife until later in the day. Suddenly Wakefield-Reynolds confronted him, saying, “What the f— are you doing here?”

Reynolds said he pulled out the gun and stuck it up to his chest.

“Not in front of the children,” Wakefield-Reynolds said, leading him into her bedroom.

“I closed the door,” he said. “I wanted to know why she lied.” Reynolds said his wife called to one of the sons to call 911. “I pointed the gun at her. I didn’t want her to leave. I was shaking so bad that I had to use two hands to hold the gun. I heard my son walking to the door. I said, ‘Jacob, it’s OK. It’s OK, honey.’ Rhonda asked, ‘Why are you doing this?’”

Reynolds said he turned toward the closed door while still holding the gun on Wakefield-Reynolds. He yelled his son’s name and the gun went off.

“I shot her, but I didn’t intend to,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘What the hell just happened? What did I do?’” Reynolds said he never aimed the gun and never intended to pull the trigger. “I saw my wife against the wall. Her eyes were closed and she was not moving.”

He said he stepped backward, onto a cell phone, and picked it up but then panicked and dropped it.

Reynolds then said he grabbed his boys, took them from the house to his son Robert Brenner’s home and turned himself in at the Waterville Police Department. “I was holding the gun,” he said. “That makes it my fault.”

In her cross-examination of Reynolds, Zainea asked, “You knew pointing a loaded gun could kill Rhonda, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“You knew all you needed was one bullet?”

“Yes.”

“But you took the whole clip [of ammunition]?”

“Yes.”

“You rendered her no aid?”

“No.”

“You just left her there?”

“Yes.”

“If this was an accident, why didn’t you get help?”

“I thought she was dead.”

Zainea also illustrated that although Reynolds said he dropped the cell phone by the door, it was found next to Wakefield-Reynolds, on the other side of the room.

Closing arguments will be heard this morning, and Justice Andrew Horton said he would render a verdict in the afternoon.

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