Death penalty off the table in high-profile Oregon cases


A man accused of killing a Portland mother in 2016 is no longer facing aggravated murder charges

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Recent changes to Oregon state law could take the death penalty off the table for multiple people facing aggravated murder charges, including a man accused of killing a Portland mother in 2016.

The body of Apache Rose Hightower was found tortured and dumped on a road in Columbia County. She left behind a daughter.

“This little girl is never going to know her mother and that is just more than I can bear,” said the victim’s mother, Nonnie Hightower.

But one of the people accused in her murder — Charles William Vernon — is now facing charges of 1st-degree murder after state prosecutors filed a motion in September to dismiss aggravated murder charges.

Senate Bill 1013 narrows the state’s use of the death penalty by substantially limiting the definition of aggravated murder.

The new rules also affect Jeremy Christian — the man accused of stabbing 3 people and killing 2 on a TriMet MAX train in May of 2017. His lawyers filed a motion in Multnomah County Circuit Court to remove the death penalty under SB 1013. Christian’s attorneys said prosecutors could choose to pursue him under the newly created charge of first-degree murder.

Prosecutors have also dropped one of the aggravated murder charges for Michael Wolfe, who is accused of killing 25-year-old Salem mother Karissa Fretwell and their 3-year-old son in May.

However, since he is still accused of killing a child younger than 14, Wolfe will still be prosecuted for aggravated murder. Wolfe is due back in court on Thursday to face those amended charges.

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