Death penalty ruled out in Rios case

Circumstances don’t meet state guidelines for capital punishment.
Friday, September 10, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:58 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Special prosecutor Morley Swingle will not pursue the death penalty for murder suspect Steven Rios.

In a court notice filed last week, Swingle said the state had no evidence to support any of the statutory aggravating circumstances required to pursue capital punishment in Missouri.

“We are very happy with that,” said Valerie Leftwich, one of Rios’ defense attorneys. “We certainly think that’s appropriate.”

According to Missouri law, there are 17 possible conditions when capital punishment can be considered in first-degree murder cases. The list includes offenses committed by an offender with a prior first-degree murder conviction, offenses made during the commission of another unlawful homicide, and offenses that created a great risk of death to more than one person by means of a hazardous weapon or device.

Rios is accused of murdering 23-year-old MU student Jesse Valencia, who was found with his throat cut on June 5. In the days after the slaying, it was learned that Rios, a married father of one, had been involved in a homosexual relationship with Valencia.

If convicted on the murder charge, Rios will now face life in prison without the possibility of probation or parole. Rios also faces a charge of armed criminal action, which is punishable by no less than three years in prison.

Swingle also filed a document last week that established his position on a possible change of venue for the trial. If the defense requests a venue change, Swingle wrote, he suggests keeping the trial in Boone County and bringing in jurors from elsewhere.

Swingle also explained his position on the venue change in a letter to Circuit Judge Gene Hamilton, who presided over Rios’ arraignment Tuesday. In the letter, Swingle noted that 73 of the 83 witnesses in the trial are from Boone County.

“It would be much more efficient in terms of time and expense to the witnesses and to the taxpayers to go ahead and try the case in Boone County, but to import the jurors from somewhere else,” Swingle said in the letter.

Rios’ defense attorneys have not filed such a request yet, but they still may, Leftwich said. Missouri law allows 10 days from the time the case is assigned a trial judge. No judge has been assigned.

“We’re still considering all of our options,” Leftwich said.

Swingle also informed the judge that he expected the trial to take a full week.

Calls to Swingle’s office Thursday afternoon were not immediately returned.

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