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Columbia Missourian

Court denies Rios' appeal of conviction for 2004 murder

By Anjali Pinto
June 29, 2010 | 5:38 p.m. CDT
Steven Rios, pictured here in May 2005, describes where he was sitting on the roof of the police station with other officers after his shift ended the night Jesse Valencia was killed. Rios says he went home from the stations but prosecutors say he drove to Valencia's house.

COLUMBIA — Steven Rios, the former Columbia police officer convicted for the 2004 murder of 23-year-old MU student Jesse Valencia, was denied an appeal Tuesday.

Rios was found guilty of strangling and slashing the throat of  Valencia near his East Campus apartment on June 5, 2004, after an affair that lasted several months. Rios was 28 and married with a small child at the time of the crime.

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Rios has been convicted for the murder of Valencia twice; the first conviction in 2005 was overturned because of hearsay evidence. The hearsay statements came from a friend of Valencia who did not hear or see the crime but testified about possible motivation for the murder. Rios was granted a new trial in April 2007.

The second trial began in December 2008 and ended in January 2009 when Rios was convicted of second-degree murder and armed criminal action. Rios was sentenced to life in prison for the murder and 23 years for armed criminal action.

In his latest appeal, Rios claimed the trial court made mistakes, including permitting members of the jury to separate from the group and allowing the medical examiner to testify about Valencia's cause or means of death. But the appeals court rejected those claims.

"Twenty-four jurors have found him guilty — 12 in the first trial, and 12 in the second," said Cape Girardeau County Prosecutor Morley Swingle, who was appointed special prosecutor in the case. "And I am glad that this (decision) is putting the case to rest."

Swingle said the Missouri Supreme Court wasn't likely to grant a request for an appeal.

A secretary for Missouri State Public Defender Ellen Flottman, Rios' attorney, said Flottman would have no comment.

Valencia was buried near his mother's house in Perryville, Ky. He was a political science and history student who had expressed an interest in attending law school.