Rios pleads not guilty

Tuesday, September 7, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:30 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Murder suspect Steven Rios pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in connection with the June 5 death of 23-year-old MU student Jesse Valencia during his arraignment this morning.

Circuit Judge Gene Hamilton did not set a trial date for Rios, a former Columbia police officer. A representative from Hamilton's office said trial dates are typically set within a few days of arraignment.

Stephen Richey of the Boone County Public Defender's Office represented Rios at the arraignment. The prosecution was represented by special prosecutor Ben Gray of Cape Girardeau. Morley Swingle, also of Cape Girardeau, has been the main prosecutor in the Rios case but was not present at the proceedings.

Rios arrived at the Boone County Courthouse wearing a black suit with a blue shirt and no tie. He had on handcuffs and ankle cuffs throughout the arraignment and was surrounded by four plain-clothes guards. Rios appeared calm and grinned at some people in the courtroom.

Linda Valencia, the mother of the victim, arrived about 20 minutes before the hearing began. At a court appearance last month, Valencia said she became upset when Rios looked at her and smiled. She said Rios did not look at her during today's arraignment.

"It was probably a good thing," she said. "I was already upset. I don't think I could handle that."

Valencia said she did not expect Rios to enter a guilty plea, but she was still upset to know that the case must go to trial.

"It made it worse because he pled not guilty," she said. "I had hoped it would be over quickly. I do not know how I'm going to get through it, but I guess I have to."

Valencia said if Rios is found guilty, she wants him punished accordingly.

"If he's not guilty, then that's fine; let him prove he's not guilty," she said. "But if he is, I want the harshest punishment."

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