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Man charged in girlfriend's cliff death strikes plea deal

HOOD RIVER, Ore. -- A 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. 

Making sense of Rhonda Casto's death

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. Casto fell to her death during a hike along a treacherous trail with Nichols on March 16 of that year. 

Nichols spoke to "48 Hours," insisting the death was an accident. Casto was the mother of the couple's then-infant daughter.

"I love Rhonda. I will always love Rhonda. I fully expected to spend the rest of my life with her. I have never done anything to harm her,"  Nichols told Peter Van Sant.

Nichols was secretly indicted in the case while living in China and was arrested in San Francisco in 2015.   

But evidence problems created challenges for prosecutors seeking to prove murder. The Oregon Supreme Court ruled an interview with Nichols after his arrest was inadmissible. A lead detective also destroyed crime scene and autopsy photos.

Under the new plea deal, Nichols received three years of probation, with credit for 19 months of jail time while awaiting trial. 

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