Rios to get Clay County jury

Judge tentatively moves trial date from January to May.
Tuesday, October 19, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:17 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A jury from Clay County is likely to decide the fate of former Columbia police officer Steven Rios, but his trial will still take place in Boone County.

Judge Ellen Roper made the decision at a hearing Monday. She also agreed to delay the trial until next May.

Rios, 27, is facing charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the death of 23-year-old MU student Jesse Valencia, who was found with his throat cut on June 5.

In a motion filed last month requesting a venue change, Rios’ defense argued that “the amount and nature of pretrial publicity” surrounding the slaying would prejudice Boone County jurors against Rios. The motion was accompanied by about 200 pages of newspaper articles and summaries of television reports about the case.

Previously, special prosecuting attorney Morley Swingle had said that he did not oppose having a jury from elsewhere but that he did want to keep the trial in Boone County. He said moving the entire trial elsewhere would be expensive for the state, which would have to pay for hotel rooms for the prosecution’s 83 potential witnesses.

At the hearing, Swingle and defense attorney Valerie Leftwich said they had agreed to bring jurors from Clay County to Boone County for the trial. Roper approved the agreement.

“We agreed to pick a jury in Clay County because it was far enough away that it has different media outlets,” Leftwich said after the hearing.

Under state law, the Missouri Supreme Court still must approve the decision because the 7th Judicial Circuit, where Clay County is located, is not adjacent to the 13th Judicial Circuit, which includes Boone County.

Roper also approved the defense’s request for continuance. She tentatively set the date of the trial, which had been Jan. 18, for the week of May 16. Roper said she would have to review her calendar before officially scheduling it for that date, however.

At the hearing, Leftwich said the defense had recently received new evidence and needed more time to prepare for the trial. Swingle agreed to the change, and both said the trial would probably take less than two weeks.

Jesse Valencia’s mother, Linda Valencia of Perryville, Ky., was not at the hearing. She has attended all previous hearings in the case, but Swingle said she didn’t make the trip because she had already been informed of the agreement between the prosecution and defense.

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