COLUMBIA — Former Columbia police officer Steven Rios was asked by commanding officers to identify the body of 23-year-old MU student Jesse Valencia and then guard the crime scene on the day of Valencia’s death, several Columbia police officers testified Wednesday morning, the second day of Rios’s retrial.
On the afternoon of June 5, 2004, shortly after Valencia was found dead with a slashed throat, Rios mentioned to several fellow officers that he either knew or had arrested Valencia, the officers testified. Rios was then asked to identify the body, though he was sidetracked when other officers asked for additional staff to cover the expanding crime scene.
Rios, now 31, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 2005 for the murder. Rios’s new trial is being held in Boone County Circuit Court in front of a jury drawn from Clay County. The retrial was granted in 2007 by a three-judge panel of the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals, which ruled that two statements made during testimony in the first trial were hearsay and inadmissible.
Sgt. Lloyd Simons, who supervised Rios in 2003, testified Wednesday that Rios was a politically ambitious young man interested in one day running for office as a Democrat. As an example of Rios’s political interests, Simons said that in 2003 or 2004, Rios was the first person to mention Barack Obama to him.
Earlier in the day, DNA criminalist Jason Wyckoff testified that Rios’s DNA was found on hair and nail clippings taken from Valencia’s body, corroborating earlier testimony from DNA analyst Kim Gorman. Wyckoff, who works in the Missouri State Highway Patrol crime lab, said he was confident that the DNA belonged to Rios because of its unique pattern — he said there is a 1 in 757 trillion chance it could belong to someone else.
But Wyckoff also told defense attorney Gillis Leonard that he did not test DNA samples from a comforter taken from Valencia’s apartment, even though Leonard had requested the tests. Wyckoff said the crime lab determines how it allocates resources and did not think a test of the comforter would have contributed to the investigation.
The defense contends that Rios’s hairs found on Valencia’s body could have come from Valencia’s comforter, since Rios has already admitted to a sexual relationship with him.
The prosecution was expected to continue to call police witnesses Wednesday afternoon.