Stephen Nichols likely to plea in sex assault case

'Mr. Nichols maintains his innocence,' attorney writes in court documents

Stephen Nichols shown in an undated jail booking photo.
Stephen Nichols shown in an undated jail booking photo.

HILLSBORO, Ore. (KOIN) – Stephen Nichols is ready to change his plea in a child sex crimes case, according to court documents.

Nichols is the subject of a separate murder investigation being conducted in Hood River County.

According to court records, Nichols is set to change his plea in a case filed in Washington County.

That case charges him with two counts of third-degree rape and three counts of third-degree sodomy. According to court documents, the alleged abuse occurred between July 1, 2005 and January 9, 2006 and involved a then 15-year-old girl who was known to Nichols.

Investigators determined that the sexual contact between Nichols and the teen occurred in the Raleigh Hills area of Washington County.

Details of the plea deal have not been released.

Murder Investigation

The murder indictment against Nichols was filed in April 2014. The trial is currently on hold as the Oregon Court of Appeals sorts of pre-trial matters.

On March 16, 2009, Rhonda Casto fell to her death from a cliff along the Eagle Creek trail in Hood River County. Nichols was the only witness to her death.

“Mr. Nichols maintains his innocence, and he expressly wishes to have his name cleared by a Hood River County jury,” his attorney Mike Arnold wrote in court documents.

Nichols wasn’t arrested until February 2015. Investigators met him at the San Francisco International Airport after his flight from China touched down. At the time, he had been living in China with his daughter and fiancée for nearly two years. He was an English teacher.

In court documents, prosecutors acknowledge that in June 2012, the lead detective investigating Casto’s death retired. Sometime between the detective’s retirement and the indictment, much of the detective’s investigative work disappeared. The detective’s computer had not been used since his retirement.

According to court document’s the detective’s computer had been “wiped.”

KOIN 6 News has learned that the Northwest Regional Computer Forensic Laboratory conducted a forensic investigation into the detective’s computer. “Many records…were recovered, only some of which are relevant to the [Casto investigation.]”

During the murder investigation, police learned that Nichols had taken out a $1.2 million life insurance policy on Casto and a $250,000 life insurance policy on himself. In 2010, there was a civil lawsuit regarding the life insurance policy and who was the proper beneficiary.

KOIN 6 News will continue to follow these two cases.

In March 2016, “48 Hours” aired a story on the Nichols case.