Man accused of pushing girlfriend off Gorge cliff pleads guilty - KPTV - FOX 12

Man accused of pushing girlfriend off Gorge cliff pleads guilty to reduced charges

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Stephen Wagner Nichols, jail booking photo Stephen Wagner Nichols, jail booking photo
Rhonda Casto, photo provided by family (file image) Rhonda Casto, photo provided by family (file image)
HOOD RIVER COUNTY, OR (KPTV) -

A man who was charged with murder has pleaded guilty to reduced charges in connection with the death of his girlfriend who was killed in a 100-foot fall during a hike in the Columbia River Gorge in 2009.

Stephen Wagner Nichols, 42, pleaded guilty Monday to charges of criminally negligent homicide and coercion. He was sentenced to one year and seven months in prison, with credit for time served.

His original indictment charge of murder was dismissed.

Prosecutors said Nichols pushed 23-year-old Rhonda Casto of Portland off a cliff west of Cascade Locks in March 2009.

Search crews found her body down an embankment near the Eagle Creek Trailhead.

Investigators initially believed Casto's death was an accident. The trail was wet and had recently been hit with sleet and hail.

A secret indictment was filed against Nichols in April 2014. He was arrested at the San Francisco International Airport in February 2015.

A year later, Nichols attempted to raise bail money online through a crowdfunding site.

Nichols' bail was reduced in April 2016 and he was released from jail. He was arrested again the following month, however, for violating the terms of his release.

Along with one year and seven months in prison, Nichols was sentenced to three years post-prison supervision.

In October 2016, Nichols pleaded guilty in a separate case to three counts of second-degree sex abuse for crimes that occurred a decade earlier. He was sentenced to one year behind bars in that case.

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