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Suspects indicted in Hightower homicide case

Three people indicted Thursday for murder, kidnapping charges connected to death of Apache Rose Hightower


Three people were indicted on aggravated murder charges Thursday in the death of Apache Rose Hightower.

HIGHTOWERThe 24-year-old Portland woman’s body was found on Pittsburg Road outside St. Helens on Sept. 20. Investigators said Hightower was murdered and immediately began zeroing in on suspects.

On Thursday morning, Jesse Allen Lane, 28, of Medford, Charles William Vernon, 29, and Vernon’s fiance, 20-year-old Stephanie Toney, both of St. Helens, were indicted on charges of aggravated murder, murder and kidnapping. Lane and Vernon also face charges of strangulation and felon in possession of a firearm.

The three suspects were arraigned by video feed from jail Thursday morning. Each has been ordered to have no contact with one another and Columbia Circuit Judge Jenefer Stenzel-Grant ordered no bail holds for each suspect.

During his arraignment, Vernon told the judge he was engaged to Toney, and that the paperwork for their marriage was “already in the mail.”

LaneToneyVernon

He questioned the no contact order imposed by the judge, saying he’d have to confer with his fiance regarding legal fees.

“Mr. Vernon, you’re not gonna have any contact with her,” Grant told Vernon. “They’re gonna make sure at the jail you don’t have contact.” 

Toney wept as she confirmed her charges with the judge.

Columbia County District Attorney Steve Atchison lauded the work of the county’s Major Crimes Team in helping to identify suspects and bring charges.

“The investigation just moved quickly,” Atchison said Thursday. “The Major Crimes Team did an excellent job.”

Atchison declined to comment on whether DNA evidence will play a role in the case, but said there was enough evidence to satisfy a Grand Jury.

Columbia Circuit Judge Jenefer Stenzel-Grant confers with defendants via video feed during arraignments Thursday morning in a Columbia County courtroom. In the foreground, Columbia County District Attorney Steve Atchison looks on.Hightower’s family reported her missing to the Portland Police Bureau last month when she didn’t return home after leaving the Monday evening prior to her body being found.

Hightower’s father took to social media to say he feared for his daughter’s safety and suspected she met up with an ex-boyfriend, presumably Lane, who posed a threat to her.

Hightower put her nearly 1-year-old baby to bed, then went out for the evening and never returned, according to her father.

Lane faces four counts of aggravated murder, one count of murder, one count of felony murder, two counts of first-degree kidnapping, one count of felon in possession of a firearm, one count of strangulation, and two counts of hindering prosecution. The indictment against Lane indicates he and Hightower lived together or were in a relationship at one point, classifying the case as domestic violence.

Vernon is charged with three counts of aggravated murder, one count of murder, one count of felony murder, two counts of first-degree kidnapping, one count of felon in possession of a firearm and one count of hindering prosecution.

Toney is charged with two counts of aggravated murder, one count of murder, one count of felony murder, two counts of first-degree kidnapping and two counts of hindering prosecution.

If convicted, the defendants could each face the death penalty, or life in prison.

Prior to Thursday’s indictments, Lane was named a person of interest in the case. He was extradited back to Oregon after being arrested in Santa Barbara, Calif., on unrelated charges shortly after Hightower’s death.

“This incident is so sad for the needless loss of life and the tremendous sorrow for Ms. Hightower’s family,” Sheriff Jeff Dickerson stated in a news release. “But I am extremely proud of the way investigators doggedly stayed on top of this case to produce this relatively quick result.”

Lane, Vernon and Toney are due back in court 8:30 a.m. Monday to enter pleas.

Each defendant requested an attorney be appointed to them by the court.