A man accused of killing the mother of his child won a big victory in court this week as a judge ruled that potentially incriminating statements he made about her death will not be admissible at trial.
According to Oregon Live, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the 2015 interrogation of Stephen Nichols, following his arrest at a San Francisco airport, should have been stopped when he told detectives that he did not want to speak about Rhonda Casto’s 2009 falling death. At the time of his arrest, Nichols had been living in China with his and Casto’s young daughter, teaching English to business people.
The ruling states that Nichols “unequivocally” invoked his right to avoid self-incrimination when he told police he did not want to speak any further about his girlfriend’s death, and that San Mateo County detectives were illegally interrogating him as they continued to question him for three hours.
Casto was 23 when she fell 100 feet to her death during a March 16, 2009 hike on the Eagle Creek Trail in the Columbia River Gorge. Nichols, who was with her at the time, is accused of pushing Casto off the cliff.
The hiking destination is popular but dangerous, and has been the site of several accidents. On the day Nichols and Casto went for a hike there, it was cold and rainy, making the trail slippery.
On CBS’s 48 Hours, Nichols said the weather on the day of their hike started out nice, but eventually turned ugly. He said he would not have gone for a hike that day if he had known the weather would turn. At one point, Casto slipped on a narrow path and fell to her death. Nichols rushed down to where she was lying and tried to resuscitate her, but she was already dead. He reportedly told the 911 dispatcher that Casto had been acting high and silly that day, running around the trails.
Several months before his girlfriend’s death Nichols increased Casto’s life insurance policy to $1 million.
Nichols and Castro began their relationship in 2005 after Casto’s mother introduced the two. In an interview with 48 Hours, the mother, Julia Simmons, said that Nichols was her landlord at the time. Casto was 20 years old, and Nichols was ten years older and recently divorced.
Nichols moved in with Casto soon after they began dating. They had a baby girl three years later.
In the interview with 48 Hours, Nichols said that the couple took up hiking after Casto had the baby because she wanted to lose the baby weight she gained during her pregnancy.
Simmons said that Nichols had been trying to convince Casto to go on a hike for a month before the tragic outing.
“He’s either gonna give me a ring or he’s gonna throw me off the cliff,” Casto reportedly told her mother.
Court documents show that the couple each bought a $1 million life insurance policy in late 2008 from MetLife. They named each other as beneficiaries, and their daughter was named as contingent beneficiary. Nichols eventually split the insurance money with Simmons and with the estate of his daughter after initially trying to claim it for himself.
Nichols has long maintained his innocence. If there was a motive for murder, it appears to have been financial. In addition to the insurance claim, Simmons told 48 Hours that Nichols may have killed her daughter because he suspected she was planning to leave him and did not want to responsible for child support.
[Photo: Facebook/Rhonda Casto – Justice]