Trial in MU student’s death starts this week

Monday, May 16, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:39 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Today, jurors will be selected in Clay County, northeast of Kansas City, to hear the murder trial of a former Columbia police officer.

Steven Rios is accused of killing Jesse Valencia, a 23-year-old MU student whose body was found outside his Wilson Street apartment June 5 with his throat cut.

Rios has entered not-guilty pleas in Boone County Circuit Court to charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action.

The trial, to be held at the Boone County Courthouse, is expected to last through the end of this week.

“Win or lose, we should have closing arguments by Friday,” said Morley Swingle, a Cape Girardeau prosecutor brought in to hear the case.

“We’re going to bring in about 60 witnesses, at about 20 a day,” Swingle said.

The prosecution is likely to wrap up on Thursday, he said.

Columbia public defender Stephen Richey, who is handling Rios’ defense, declined to comment.

Swingle has said he would not pursue the death penalty.

Rios met Valencia when the officer responded to a complaint about an East Campus party on April 18, 2004. Rios issued tickets to Valencia and another man after they tried to stop police from arresting a third person. Shortly after Valencia’s body was found, links between Rios and Valencia emerged, and the Columbia Police Department put Rios on paid leave June 9.

On June 10, the Missourian reported that Rios had been in an intimate relationship with Valencia before the student’s death. That night, Rios called Columbia police to say he was in Kansas City with a 12-gauge shotgun and was prepared to harm himself.

Rios was apprehended and taken to the Mid-Missouri Mental Health Center on June 11. However, he escaped about 7 p.m. The next day, he threatened to jump from the top of the five-story Maryland Avenue parking garage at MU

Crisis negotiators from the Columbia Police Department persuaded Rios to walk away from the ledge, and he was taken to the Biggs Forensic Unit at Fulton State Hospital. While at the hospital, he resigned from the police force. On July 1, he was charged with Valencia’s murder.

Rios waived his preliminary hearing in August and pleaded not guilty to the charges on Sept. 7. He was moved from the hospital in Fulton to the Boone County Jail in January.

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