Rios charged in Valencia slaying

Thursday, July 1, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:25 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Former Columbia Police Officer Steven Rios was charged today with first-degree murder and armed criminal action in connection with the slaying of MU student Jesse Valencia.

Rios, 27, was arrested this morning at Fulton State Hospital, according to a news release issued by Columbia police Capt. Mike Martin. The charges were filed by special prosecutor Morley Swingle of Cape Girardeau. Rios remains in custody without bond at the Biggs Forensic Center at Fulton.

Valencia, 23, was slain June 5, and his body was found near his East Campus neighborhood apartment. The medical examiner said Valencia's throat was cut.

Valencia's grandmother, Connie Baugh of Perryville, Ky., said Thursday morning she was relieved to hear that Rios had been arrested.

"It gives us a sense that something's being done," Baugh said. "If he's the one that did it, we're hoping that he'll get his punishment." Baugh said the almost month-long investigation has been difficult for Valencia's family.

"I just went to the doctor yesterday for my nerves," she said. "It's been rough on all of us. Maybe this will help."

Valencia's close friend from home, Erin Bailey, also expressed relief.

"It's something to focus my energy on," Bailey said. "It's everybody's biggest hope to have Jesse's murderer put to justice. I feel I can breathe for the first time in several weeks."

According to a probable cause statement filed by police Detective John Short, DNA matching that of Rios' was found under Valencia's fingernails.

Rios admitted having an intimate relationship with Valencia for several months before the murder. The two met when Rios arrested Valencia in connection with a peace disturbance on April 18.

According to Short's statement, an acquaintance of Valencia's said that Valencia threatened to tell Police Chief Randy Boehm about his relationship with Rios.

Police searched Rios' home June 11, seizing clothes and trace material from shower drains. They did not find a clip-on style folding knife, one of the items for which they were searching.

Until today, Rios had never been officially identified by police as a suspect but only as a "person of interest." Rios twice threatened suicide before resigning from the force on June 16. He has been held at Fulton State Hospital since threatening to leap from an MU parking garage.

Swingle was appointed special prosecutor June 18 at the request of Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Crane. Crane sought to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, given Rios' role as a police witness in past and pending cases.

Rios is represented by the Columbia law firm Walther, Antel, Stamper & Fischer.

"At this point, our office has no comment," Marnie Tebeest, assistant to attorney Rusty Antel, said.

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