Appeals court won't hear attorney general on Rios appeal

Tuesday, June 26, 2007 | 2:44 p.m. CDT; updated 3:21 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

The Missouri Western District Court of Appeals on Tuesday denied a motion by the Missouri Attorney General's office to reconsider its decision overturning the conviction of Steven Rios.

Rios, a former Columbia police officer, was convicted in 2005 in the slaying of 23-year-old MU student Jesse Valencia. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The appellate court overturned Rios' conviction in April, ruling that two statements made by one of Valencia's friends were unacceptable hearsay.

Rios, who was married and had an infant son, was having an affair with Valencia, according to testimony during Rios' trial in Boone County Circuit Court.

The friend, Joan Sheridan, testified that Valencia told her he planned to tell Columbia police of the affair if Rios did not "take care of" a municipal ticket he wrote Valencia the night they met. She also testified that Valencia planned to ask Rios if he was married because he didn't want to be involved with a married man.

Morley Swingle, the special prosecutor in Rios' trial, said the attorney general's office will likely ask the Missouri Supreme Court to hear the case because the issue - whether testimony of future plans is unacceptable hearsay - is a matter of general interest and importance.

A spokesman from the attorney general's office did not immediately return a phone call made to his office.

If the state's highest court denies the case or rules in favor of Rios, Swingle said he will prosecute him in a new trial.

Reached at her Kentucky home, Linda Valencia, Jesse Valencia's mother, said she had a bad feeling all day.

"I think it's one of the cruelest things I've ever seen anybody do," she said. "They can give him a new trial, but they can't give my son a new life."

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