Rhonda Casto's last words to family members before embarking on a scenic hike with boyfriend Stephen Nichols: "He is either going to give me a ring or throw me off a cliff, ha ha ha." A few hours later she was dead. This week, Nichols was sentenced to time already served (19 months in jail) and three years' probation, reports People. In March 2009, Casto, 23, was hiking with Nichols on a trail in the Columbia River Gorge when she fell 100 feet to her death. Prosecutors believe Nichols killed the aspiring model for her $1 million life insurance policy. Her mother thinks he killed her because Casto was planning move out and take their one-year-old daughter. "She was trying to get up the courage to do it," says Julia Simmons. "She was disillusioned about Steve."
The fall was initially ruled an accident, then in 2015 Nichols, 42, was charged with murder, recalls the Daily Mail. In 2017 prosecutors dropped the murder charge and replaced it with criminally negligent homicide and coercion, after a judge ruled that a detective had acted improperly during an interview. Nichols has denied any responsibility for Casto’s death. He told police that Casto accidentally slipped and fell, and he hiked down the hill to help her, but didn’t have a cell phone to alert authorities. He eventually hiked back to the parking lot where he called for help. Of the sentence, Casto's mother tells People, "This is the justice system being stupid … I am just disgusted with the outcome." (Read more hikers stories.)