COLUMBIA — Opening statements are scheduled to begin Tuesday morning in the retrial of Steven Rios, a former Columbia police officer sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for the 2004 murder of 23-year-old MU student Jesse Valencia.
On Monday morning, attorneys selected a Clay County jury of 12 primary and 3 alternate jurors for the trial, which will be held in Boone County Circuit Court. Later in the day, Judge Frank Conley denied a defense motion to suppress evidence from a Columbia police interview of Rios, now 31, conducted just days after Valencia’s death.
The Missouri Supreme Court appointed Conley, a retired Boone County Circuit judge, after Boone County Circuit Judge Gary Oxenhandler recused himself from the case in July because he knows one of the witnesses personally.
A three-judge panel of the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals granted the retrial in April 2007. The judges ruled two statements made during testimony in the 2005 murder trial were hearsay and inadmissible.
Both statements, allegedly made by Valencia and entered into evidence through the testimony of his friend, Joan Sheridan, were used to establish Rios' motive for committing the murder.
The court of appeals decided the statements were not covered by any of the exceptions that allow hearsay to be used as evidence.
During the first trial, which lasted five days and included testimony from more than 60 witnesses, Sheridan testified that she had a conversation with Valencia the month before the June 2004 slaying. She said Valencia implied in their conversation that if Rios did not “take care of” a municipal ticket he wrote Valencia the night they met, he was going to tell Columbia police about their affair.
Rios, who was married at the time of the killing, admitted to the affair in court.
Sheridan also testified that a few days before Valencia was killed, he told her that he was planning to ask Rios if he was married because he didn’t want to be involved with a married man. Valencia was found dead with his throat slashed on June 5, 2004, at the corner of Wilson Avenue and William Street, near his East Campus apartment.
Rios is represented by Gillis Leonard, a defense attorney from Moberly. Cape Girardeau attorney Morley Swingle was brought in as special prosecutor because of the Boone County Prosecutor’s Office’s relationship to Rios in his capacity as a police officer.
The trial is scheduled to begin at 8:15 a.m. Tuesday at the Boone County Courthouse. Court TV will broadcast segments of the proceeding live throughout the trial.