1 suspect in Apache Hightower murder pleads guilty

Apache Hightower was slain in September 2016

Apache Hightower, undated photo on left, was killed in September 2016. Jesse Lane, right, pleaded guilty to her murder on October 5, 2017 (Jesse Lane's booking photo from Santa Barbara County, 2016)
Apache Hightower, undated photo on left, was killed in September 2016. Jesse Lane, right, pleaded guilty to her murder on October 5, 2017 (Jesse Lane's booking photo from Santa Barbara County, 2016)

ST. HELENS, Ore. (KOIN) – One of the 7 suspects involved with the cover up of a woman’s murder will spend life in prison after taking a plea deal October 5.

Jesse Allen Lane, 29, took a plea deal on Oct. 5 and pleaded guilty to one count of murder and first-degree kidnapping in the case of Apache Hightower.

Previous stories: Apache Hightower murder

Details of the plea agreement remain sealed because the some of the co-defendants are still pending trial or sentencing.

Lane will be eligible to apply for parole after serving a minimum of 25 years behind bars. He will be sentenced on the first-degree kidnapping charge at a later date.

Apache Rose Hightower, 24, was found dead in rural St. Helens, September 20, 2016. (Columbia Co. Sheriff’s Office)

Hightower, a 24-year-old mother, died September 20, 2016, the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office said. Her body was discovered in rural Columbia County on Pittsburg Road about a mile from Salmonberry Lake. Investigators used fingerprints to identify her body.

Court records show Hightower was a witness to a criminal proceeding, but officials have never disclosed its nature. Prosecutors claim Hightower was kidnapped, intentionally maimed or tortured and then strangled by both Lane and Charles Vernon.

Vernon is charged with aggravated murder. A trial date set for September 2018 has been cancelled. No dates have been re-scheduled.

Other suspects involved

Charles W. Vernon, Jesse A. Lane and Stephanie J. Toney have all been indicted in the muder of Apache Hightower. October 13, 2016, (Mulnomah Co. Sheriff’s Office)

Five other people also face indictments in the case: Stephanie Jeanne Toney, James Brewer Jr., Shelley Edwards, Randall Schwirse and Laquint Roshon Ford.

Toney is also charged with aggravated murder. A trial date is scheduled for May 2018, but will likely get pushed back, according to legal experts.

Brewer pleaded no contest to hindering prosecution in late September. A sentencing date will be set at a later date. A no contest plea means that Brewer is not admitting guilt but not disputing the evidence prosecutors have.

(left-right) Randall Schwirse, 42, Shelly Edwards, 38, and James Brewer Jr., 46, are accused of hindering prosecution in Apache Hightower’s murder case. (Columbia County Sheriff’s Office)

Edwards is scheduled to take a plea deal and will be sentenced in November. Currently, she is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and hindering prosecution.

Schwirse is awaiting trial for hindering prosecution and possession of meth. No dates have been set.

Ford had been charged with hindering prosecution. His case was dismissed in August.

According to court records, suspects accused of hindering prosecution reportedly hid a vehicle, gun and other physical evidence that may have helped detectives arrest Allen, Vernon and Toney.