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Court firm on the Rios overturn

The district court of appeals denied a motion to reconsider.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:13 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
STEVEN RIOS was convicted of murdering an MU student.

Linda Valencia had a bad feeling Tuesday.

“I guess I must have a mother’s instinct. It seems like I’ve been falling to pieces all day long,” said Valencia, the mother of Jesse Valencia, who was found dead in a neighbor’s yard in June 2004. His throat had been slashed.

Linda Valencia found out Tuesday afternoon that the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals had denied a motion by the Missouri Attorney General’s office to reconsider its decision overturning the conviction of Steven Rios or to transfer the case to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Rios, a former Columbia police officer, was found guilty of first-degree murder and armed criminal action by a Clay County jury in May 2005 in the slaying of the 23-year-old MU student. Rios was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

A three-judge panel of the appellate court overturned Rios’ conviction in April, ruling that two statements made by one of Jesse Valencia’s friends were unacceptable hearsay.

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

The friend, Joan Sheridan, testified that Jesse Valencia told her he planned to reveal the affair to Columbia police if Rios did not “take care of” a municipal ticket he wrote Valencia the night they met. She also testified that Jesse 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.

“This issue comes up a lot,” Swingle said. “I’m hoping (the state Supreme Court) will disagree with the Western District.”

The attorney general’s office has 15 days to ask the state Supreme Court to hear the case.

A spokesman from the attorney general’s office did not return phone calls made Tuesday. Nancy McKerrow, the public defender representing Rios, also did not return calls made to her office Tuesday.

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.

Linda Valencia said her only son’s murder ripped her family apart and a new trial would only add to the damage already done.

“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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