After 23-year-old mother and aspiring model Rhonda Casto fell to her death from a cliff eight years ago, her family cried murder.
As the only person with her at the time – and as one of the few people who stood to benefit from her $1 million life insurance policy – investigators set their sights on Casto’s boyfriend and father of her child, Stephen Wagner Nichols.
But this week the 42-year-old has walked free.
Nichols was due to face trial in 2018, but in a stunning move prosecutors in the US state of Oregon have dropped the murder charge against him, as part of a deal that saw Nichols instead plead guilty to criminally negligent homicide and coercion.
In basic terms, criminal negligence applies when an individual “allowed” the victim to die.
He was sentenced to 19 months for each charge as well as three years’ of probation, but with time already served he will not be required to spend any more time behind bars, reports local news outlet, The Bend Bulletin.
Casto, who had a child with Nichols during their 3.5 year relationship, died after plunging more than 30 metres off a cliff while hiking along the scenic Eagle Creek Trail in March 2009.
Investigators initially ruled her death accidental, but in April 2014, a grand jury ruled to indict Nichols for murder. He was then arrested in February 2015, after he returned from China with his daughter.