COLUMBIA — The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday decided to let stand an appeals court decision granting former Columbia police Officer Steven Rios a new trial.
A Clay County jury in May 2005 convicted Rios, now 30, of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the slaying of Jesse Valencia, an MU student with whom Rios, who was married, was having an affair. Valencia’s body was found in June 2004 in a neighbor’s yard near his East Campus apartment, his throat slashed.
The state’s highest court declined to hear the state’s appeal of the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals decision in June to grant Rios a new trial because of two hearsay statements from one of Valencia’s friends who testified during Rios’s trial.
Jesse Valencia’s parents, Linda and Lupe Valencia, could not be reached Tuesday. But when Rios’ conviction was overturned in June, Linda Valencia said the family was torn apart by her son’s death and Rios’ trial.
“Jesse’s sisters and his father and I have just barely begun to heal from it,” she said. “For him to get a new trial and make us relive this again, I think it’s very unfair.”
The friend, Joan Sheridan, whose hearsay testimony should not have been admitted according to the appeals court, testified that 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 on 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.
“We will need to retry the Rios case without the 56 seconds of testimony that the Western District said should not be admitted,” said Morley Swingle, the special prosecutor on the case who will retry Rios. “I felt it was admissible under a hearsay exception.”
Swingle, who has served as the Cape Girardeau prosecuting attorney since 1987, said he expects the second trial to take place in early 2008.
Ellen Flottman, Rios’ public defender, did not immediately return messages left at her office Tuesday afternoon.
Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm did not attend Rios’ first trial and said Tuesday he would not attend his second trial.
“There is no doubt in my mind that he’s responsible,” he said. “I think (the new trial) will reopen some wounds. None of us want to think of someone who wears this badge as being capable of such a horrendous crime, but that’s what the evidence showed.”