A male accused of pushing his girlfriend off a cliff follow me the Eagle Creek trace in the Columbia alleyways pleaded guilty this week to criminally negligent homicide and coercion, finish an 8-year-old case significant by arguments over a $1 million insurance policy, a an enig indictment and a bungled investigation.

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State prosecutors reduce a murder charge against Steven P. Nichols this mainly in a plea deal. Nichols, 42, was inserted on 3 years that probation v credit because that the year and also seven month he currently served in prison awaiting trial.


Rhonda Casto, 23, that Portland, the mother of the couple's then-infant daughter, died when she fell during a hike through Nichols on in march 16, 2009.


Nichols' lawyer, Mike Arnold, had actually aggressively tested the killing case, successfully pointing out flaws – native the devastation of evidence by one investigator to an unconstitutional three-hour police interview of Nichols ~ Nichols was arrested ~ above a warrant in 2015.


The initial command detective damaged evidence ~ above his computer, consisting of crime scene and also autopsy photos and also trailhead fee envelopes from potential witnesses prior to he retired, court documents indicated.


A Hood flow County judge later suppressed Nichols' statements to mountain Mateo county sheriff's detectives in California who arrested Nichols at san Francisco global Airport in 2015. As soon as asked about his girlfriend's death, Nichols had said under the questioning that "it's no something I desire to talk about,'' yet detectives continued to questioning him questions for about three hours.


The state appealed and the Oregon can be fried Court two months back upheld the suppression that Nichols' statements, finding the police interview need to have ended once that protested.


"We concluded the the defendant unequivocally express an will to invoke his right versus self-compelled incrimination, i beg your pardon a reasonable officer would have interpreted as one invocation of that right,'' the can be fried Court ruling said.


Casto fell 100 feet to she death about a mile native the trailhead follow me a narrow ar featuring wire cables and also pipe handrails because that safety. Nichols to be a suspect in the fatality from the beginning.


He referred to as 911 at 6:09 p.m. To report the Casto had actually slipped as they were hiking. He said it took him an hour come scramble under to she body and that he began "mouth to mouth" resuscitation, climate lay on peak of she for 45 minutes till he got cold. The didn't describe why.


Several months before her death, Nichols had increased Casto's life insurance policy to $1 million, records show. He had tried to collection it after her fatality and eventually agreed to break-up it with Casto's mother and with the legacy of the kid he had with Casto.


Casto's mother, Julia Simmons, now encounters a federal charge herself, accused that embezzling Social protection funds the she wasn't licensed has been granted to, follow to court documents.


As an investigation right into the death proceeded, Nichols ongoing to live in the bend area for several years before he travel to China for around a year and a half with his daughter. In 2014, Hood river County prosecutors derived a an enig indictment versus Nichols as he to be still in China. He was arrested once he returned to the nation at the mountain Francisco airport.


The dismissal of the killing charge and guilty pleas come two various other felony charges complied with settlement negotiations in between Hood river County Deputy ar Attorney Carrie Rasmussen and also Arnold.


Nichols pleaded guilty come coercing Casto to go on the hike and unlawfully and also with criminal negligence bring about her death.


To prove murder, prosecutors would certainly have had to show Nichols intentionally led to Casto's death.


"There was no evidence. There was innuendo. There to be speculation and conjecture,'' Arnold said.


The couple's daughter, now 8 year old, remains in state custody.


-- Maxine Bernstein


mbernstein
oregonian.com 503-221-8212
maxoregonian


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