Medford man sentenced in murder of Portland woman found in Columbia County
UPDATE: A Medford man pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison on one count of murder Thursday afternoon, Oct. 5, in Columbia County Circuit Court.
Jesse Allen Lane, 29, was arrested and charged in the death of Apache Rose Hightower, 24, of Portland, last September. Hightower's body was discovered on an embankment on Pittsburg Road in St. Helens 10 days after she was reported missing by her family.
On Thursday, Allen pleaded guilty to murder and first-degree kidnapping. He received credit for time served on the murder charge, according to court records. A sentencing date has yet to be set on the kidnapping charges.
Lane was initially facing charges of aggravated murder, murder, kidnapping, strangulation, hindering prosecution and felon in possession of a firearm.
Details of Lane's plea deal were sealed under order by Columbia Circuit Judge Ted Grove Thursday. Columbia County District Attorney Jeff Auxier clarified, however, that Lane was facing the death penalty if he had been found guilty of the charges against him.
"An offer was made by the defense team," Auxier said. "We consulted with the detectives and the victim's parents, and everyone was in support of that outcome."
Auxier said Lane's sentence contained no additional stipulations, though he can apply for early release.
"There is a statutory mechanism where he would be eligible for parole consideration after 25 years," Auxier explained, but added, "parole on a charge this serious is very rare."
Auxier said if any parole hearings were to take place, Hightower's family would be invited to participate. He said they've been part of the criminal justice process in this case from the start.
"What I can say confidently is we talked about the options and, quite frankly, I really wanted this settlement negotiation to be a victim-driven experience," Auxier said. "I wanted their full support. That meant a lot to me."
Lane's sentencing came almost one year after his arrest.
Hightower was reported missing in September 2016 by her father after she put her baby to bed, told her parents she was going out for the evening, and never returned. Police found Hightower's body Sept. 20 and named Lane, an ex-boyfriend, as a person of interest several days later. In October 2016, he was extradited to Columbia County from California after he was arrested on a parole violation.
Two other people were charged in Hightower's murder in 2016 — Charles Vernon, 29, and Stephanie Toney, 20, who was identified as Vernon's fiancé.
Vernon and Toney both remain in jail, awaiting trial on charges of aggravated murder, murder, kidnapping and hindering prosecution. Vernon also faces strangulation and felon in possession of a firearm charges. Vernon's trial is scheduled for April 2019 and a trial date for Toney has been set for May 2018, records show.