3 indicted for murder of Portland's Apache Hightower

ST. HELENS, Ore. -- Three people have been accused of aggravated murder in the death of Apache Rose Hightower, 24, of Portland, whose body was found in a field in rural Columbia County.

Jesse Allen Lane, 28, Stephanie Jeanne Toney, 20, and Charles William Vernon, 29, appeared in court Thursday after being indicted Wednesday before by a grand jury, said District Attorney Stephen Atchison.

Aggravated murder carries a potential death penalty.

"This incident is so sad for the needless loss of life and the tremendous sorrow for Ms. Hightower's family," said Sheriff Jeff Dickerson, "but I am extremely proud of the way investigators doggedly stayed on top of this case to produce this relatively quick result." 

Lane was charged with aggravated murder, murder, first-degree kidnapping, felon in possession of a firearm, hindering prosecution and strangulation constituting domestic violence.

The indictment alleges that Lane was in a domestic relationship with Hightower, reflected in each count against him which states they were crimes of domestic violence.

It reads that he kidnapped her and participated in the maiming and terrorizing that led to her death. He strangled Hightower, the indictment said.

Lane had a prior conviction for first-degree burglary and had a gun in his possession during the incident. In an attempt to prevent Vernon's arrest, he destroyed clothing, a cell phone and cleaning supplies.

Vernon was charged with aggravated murder. He also was accused of murder, first-degree kidnapping, strangulation, hindering prosecution and felon in possession of a firearm.

The indictment against Vernon alleges that he kidnapped Hightower on or around September 20 with the intention of terrorizing, torturing or maiming her. He strangled her, the indictment read.

On parole for a 2012 conviction for felony sexual abuse, Vernon had a gun in his possession. The indictment also alleges he aided the flight of Lane by destroying clothing, a cell phone and cleaning supplies linked to the murder.

Toney was charged with aggravated murder, murder, first-degree kidnapping, and hindering prosecution.

The indictment alleges that Toney kidnapped Hightower and participated in terrorizing, maiming and torturing Hightower, actions that eventually led to her death. She also reportedly destroyed evidence that would have linked Vernon and Lane to the death of Hightower by destroying clothing, a cell phone and cleaning supplies.

Lane was quickly named a person of interest in her disappearance. He was captured Sept. 29 in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Hightower's body was found by a passerby on Sept. 20,  down an embankment on Pittsburg Road about a mile from Salmonberry Lake.

A devastated father told KGW earlier that the family was unhappy that Hightower dated Lane.

"Every day we're one step closer to knowing what happened, and hopefully getting some closure. I've never known the kind of pain that I’m feeling now," Jonny Bradley said.

Hightower left behind an 11-month-old daughter Luna. A GoFundMe account has been set up for her care.


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