Rios sentenced to life in prison

Tuesday, July 5, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:31 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Former Columbia police officer Steven Rios was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the killing of 23-year-old MU student Jesse Valencia.

A Clay County jury convicted Rios, 28, of first-degree murder on May 27 after nearly nine hours of deliberation. Rios received an additional 10 years in prison for armed criminal action.

Rios, who appeared at the hearing shackled and wearing an orange county jail uniform, claimed he had ineffective counsel during his murder trial in May, and said his conviction was based upon distortions.

“There were so many things that should have been considered,” Rios said at his sentencing.

He told Circuit Judge Ellen Roper he would file a notice of appeal. Roper sentenced Rios to the maximum allowable sentence. Before the case went to trial, prosecutors decided not to pursue the death penalty.

Valencia was found dead June 5, 2004, near his East Campus apartment with his throat cut.

Special prosecutor Morley Swingle of Cape Girardeau said he was surprised Rios spoke at the hearing, adding that he thought Rios; attorneys, Valerie Leftwich and Stephen Richey, were “very, very capable.”

“It's become standard practice in Missouri to claim ineffective counsel after a conviction,” Swingle said. “I’m confident his conviction will be affirmed upon appeal.”

Geoffrey Preckshot, a spokesman for Rios' family, said they believe Rios is innocent and will be “vindicated upon appeal.”

Valencia's mother, Linda, spoke during the hearing and asked for Roper to sentence Rios to the maximum sentence, but said she didn’t get to say many of the things she had planned.

“When I got up there I got so emotional,” Valencia said. “I could hear Jesse saying, ‘Oh my God, Mom. You could have done better than that.’”

Valencia, who tightly gripped a picture of her son during Rios' sentencing, said that despite Tuesday’s hearing, she is angry Rios has decided to appeal his conviction.

“I don't think it's fair for him to get an appeal,” she said. “I want it to be over.”

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