Stephen Nichols strikes plea deal in cliff death

Nichols is charged with pushing his girlfriend to her death

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

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

Rhonda Casto died while hiking with her boyfriend on Eagle Creek Trail in 2009. (KOIN 6 News - File)
Rhonda Casto died while hiking with her boyfriend on Eagle Creek Trail in 2009. (KOIN 6 News – File)

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports Thursday that Steven P. Nichols had increased the life insurance policy on 23-year-old Rhonda Casto to $1 million months before her 2009 death and was charged with murder.

But evidence problems created challenges for prosecutors.

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled 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 in San Francisco in 2015.

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