Evidence could spend weeks in lab

Police have not named suspects in the Valencia death investigation.
Friday, June 11, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:15 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Forensic evidence collected by detectives investigating the murder of MU student Jesse Valencia could take weeks to process.

Capt. Steve Hinesly, director of the Missouri Highway Patrol crime laboratory, which will process the evidence for the Columbia Police Department, said depending on the type of samples submitted, it could be four to six weeks before they are returned to local investigators.

“It depends on the type of case,” he said. “We’re prioritizing cases to the best of our ability.”

Hinesly said cases involving homicides are typically given top priority by the lab, “especially if you had one that didn’t have a suspect.”

Capt. Mike Martin, investigative commander for the Columbia Police Department, declined to say what kind of evidence the department has submitted to the patrol. Police are following up on more than 100 leads, Martin said. The body of 23-year-old Valencia was found Saturday afternoon at 1517 Wilson Ave., about a half a block from his East Campus apartment at 1414 Wilson Ave.

Martin said investigators are not ready to name suspects in the case or release any evidence, but his entire unit is working the case.

“Every (police department) detective that’s in town is on it,” Martin said.

Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm said Thursday that no one has been “cleared” as a suspect in the case, including a Columbia police officer who was involved in a personal relationship with Valencia.

However, Boehm stressed, “We have nothing at this time to suggest that the officer is a suspect.”

Several people who have been questioned in the case said they told investigators they believe Valencia was involved with Steve Rios, a 27-year-old officer who has been on the force since 1999, according to city records. Rios, who celebrated his second wedding anniversary last month, is on paid leave from the department.

The relationship between the victim and a police officer has not compromised the integrity of the investigation, Boehm said, and there is no need for an outside agency to oversee the investigation. The Boone County Prosecutors Office can act as an outside check on the department, Boehm said.

Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Crane said that while he could not tell Boehm how to run his department, he would alert the chief if he saw something that would warrant intervention.

“The decision as to whether to bring in another agency is the chief’s.” Crane said. “I’m involved as another agency with respect to the investigation because ultimately if and when someone is arrested it would be my decision as to whether to charge that individual.”

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