Hearing to begin today

Former police officer will go to court today with a new set of defense attorneys.
Friday, August 20, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:31 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting to correct errors.]

Murder suspect Steven Rios is scheduled to face a preliminary hearing today, during which special prosecutor Morley Swingle could present evidence attempting to connect the former Columbia police officer to the death of MU student Jesse Valencia.

Rios will attend the hearing with a new set of defense attorneys, Valerie Leftwich and Stephen Richey, both public defenders. Rios’ former attorney, Rusty Antel, withdrew from the case Aug. 10. A representative from Antel’s office said Antel would not comment on why he left the case.

Rios could waive his right to the hearing, a move that would automatically send his case to the circuit court level for trial. As of Thursday evening, however, Leftwich would only say that the hearing remains scheduled for this morning.

If Rios goes through with the hearing, it will be Swingle’s job to convince Associate Circuit Judge Christine Carpenter that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that Rios committed the murder and that he should be tried for the crime.

In the days following Valencia’s death on June 5, Rios reportedly told investigators that he had been involved in a homosexual relationship with the 23-year-old student.

On June 10, while on the phone with Columbia police, Rios threatened to commit suicide with a shotgun. Authorities placed him in protective custody, but he escaped less than a day later and fled to the top of the Maryland Avenue parking garage, where he threatened to jump. After crisis negotiators persuaded him to come down, he was moved to Fulton State Hospital.

On June 16, Rios resigned from the police force. He was arrested on suspicion of Valencia’s murder on July 1, while still at the hospital. He now faces charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action.

Rios is being held at the hospital’s Biggs Forensic Center.

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