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S. Deschutes Co. man charged in Gorge cliff death strikes plea deal

Gets three years probation, credit for time served

HOOD RIVER, Ore. (AP) - A south Deschutes County man charged with pushing his girlfriend to her death off a trail in the Columbia River Gorge in 2009 has pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and coercion after striking a plea deal.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports Thursday (http://bit.ly/2qxXB5c) that Steven P. Nichols, 42, had increased the life insurance policy on 23-year-old Rhonda Casto to $1 million months before her death and was charged with murder.

But evidence problems created challenges for prosecutors.

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled two months ago that an interview with Nichols after his arrest was inadmissible.

A lead detective also destroyed crime scene and autopsy photos.

Nichols was secretly indicted while living in China and was arrested when he arrived at the airport in San Francisco in 2015.

He received three years of probation, with credit for 19 months of jail time while awaiting trial.

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

In 2015, NewsChannel 21 talked to area neighbors on Trader Lane, off Vandevert Road, who said it had been more than a year since Nichols lived at the home, where his parents still lived.


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