Murder suspect refuses plea deal; says trial documents withheld
Prosecutors say he took part in the murder of a 24-year-old Portland woman. Last year, they said he tried to team up with jail inmates to have another inmate killed. Now, Charles Vernon is saying he hasn't been given a fair shake.
Vernon is currently lodged in a Washington County Jail after being transferred from Columbia County as he awaits a murder trial for the death of Apache Rose Hightower, whose body was found Sept. 20, 2016, near St. Helens.
Vernon was one of three defendants arrested in connection with Hightower's death.
In October, roughly a year after his arrest, the 31-year-old inmate wrote to Columbia County Circuit Judge Ted Grove to complain that his attorneys were withholding trial documents from him, and jail staff wouldn't allow him to fully review discovery documents related to his own trial.
"I am sending you this letter to inform you of the concern I have and to document the issue in-case I am forced to seek alternate council as I refuse to be denyed [sic] being able to activly [sic] assist in my own defense and I can't do that if I'm being refused discovery [sic]," Vernon wrote.
He told Grove he has "growing concerns" about whether his defense attorneys — Seth White and Dean Smith — are representing him to the best of their abilities. Vernon claimed he requested all documents classified as discovery from his legal defense, but was only given a portion of the copious amounts of evidence.
Smith and White told him he "should be getting all of it," Vernon stated, but noted he is aware of over a million pages of discovery and had only a fraction of it.
He wrote to the judge again the following day, to request new legal counsel, but that never happened, and Vernon noted in a follow-up letter the following month that his lawyers were working with him to get the documents he requested, but Washington County Jail staff denied him from having all the paperwork in his cell at once.
Update Monday, Jan. 8: Washington County Jail Sgt. Bryon Monson said the jail's inmate manual stipulates that jail cells shall be kept "neat, and clutter-free," and noted an unreasonable amount of legal papers would likely constitute possession, manufacture, or use of nuisance contraband.
"We will question the amount if the stack is more than 1/4" thick," Monson stated. "When an inmate is in our custody and has more than normal quantities of legal paperwork, jail staff will do their best to accommodate the inmate's need to access their legal work while following Washington County Sheriff's Office Policies and Procedures..."
Vernon also informed the judge he doesn't intend to take any plea deal offered to him.
"I will be making absolutely no deal with the D.A. or the A.G. on this case so there will be a trial meaning establishing my defense is and will be critical," Vernon stated.
Vernon is currently charged with aggravated murder, murder, kidnapping, strangulation, felon in possession of a firearm and hindering prosecution.
Last year, defense attorneys representing Vernon's co-defendant, Jesse Allen Lane, filed a motion to suppress evidence in the case, alleging Vernon was circulating letters to other inmates to have Lane killed in jail. Vernon later denied those allegations in a letter to the Spotlight.
Vernon called Lane's defense team's claims "a desperate and foolish attempt" to "make Mr. Lane look like some kind of victim."
The third co-defendant in the case, Stephanie Toney, was reportedly engaged to Vernon when the two were arrested.
Lane took a plea deal last year and was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Hightower.
Vernon is scheduled for trial in 2019.
Vernon has sex crime history in Columbia County
Before being charged in the homicide of Hightower, Vernon pleaded guilty to first- and second-degree sexual abuse charges in Columbia County in 2006, when he was 19, court records show. He was required to register as a sex offender and complete a sex offender outpatient treatment program.
In that case, he was charged with having sexual intercourse with a 15-year-old in Clatskanie, pushing her down and disabling phones in the home they were both in so the teen couldn't call for help.