COLUMBIA — Former Columbia police Officer Steven Rios was moved Friday from a Minnesota prison to the Boone County Jail in preparation for his murder retrial.
Rios, who was convicted in 2005 of killing Jesse Valencia, a 23-year-old MU student with whom he was having an affair, was granted a new trial after the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District overturned his conviction in April.
The appeals court granted the former police officer a new trial because of improperly introduced hearsay evidence at his first trial.
Cape Girardeau Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle, the special prosecutor in the case, has said he expects the new trial to start in early 2008.
Rios, 30, had been held at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater in Bayport, Minn., since his first-degree murder conviction in connection with the death of Valencia, who was found outside of his East Campus apartment on June 5, 2004, with his throat slashed.
Rios, who was married with one son at the time, admitted to having an affair with Valencia but denied any role in the killing.
Rios arrived at 4:45 p.m. Friday at the Boone County Jail, where he once worked as a guard. He was photographed and booked into the jail on charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action.
Maj. Tom Reddin of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department said Rios will be in “administrative segregation,” which means he will be kept alone in his own cell. The amount of time he will be let out of the cell — such as for regular showers — will be kept to a minimum, Reddin said.
Reddin said he didn’t know exactly how large the cell was, but said, “It isn’t large. It isn’t the Hilton.”
Reddin said it was a little uncomfortable having to deal with Rios, not only because he was a former police officer but also because he had spent about a month working in the jail before taking a job with the city’s police department.
“It can be a little awkward. But we’ve got a good group of professionals here at the jail,” Reddin said. “Some members knew him on a professional level prior to his homicide, but it doesn’t affect how he’s going to be treated.”
However, because Rios intimately knows the workings of the jail facility, Reddin said officers will be on an “elevated awareness and alertness” when moving him within or out of the facility.
“Because of his prior experience as a law enforcement officer, we are taking extra precautions because of the other inmates and for his own safety,” Reddin said.
Linda Valencia, Jesse Valencia’s mother, said her family has been torn apart since learning that the appeals court overturned Rios’ conviction.
“This man has just destroyed my whole family,” she said when reached by phone Saturday at her Kentucky home.
Valencia said her health problems have been exacerbated by the stress of her son’s death and Rios’ retrial. She said her heart is weak, and she recently got out of the hospital after kidney surgery. Her father, who also has heart problems, has complained of chest pains since learning that Rios will receive a new trial. And her two daughters have struggled in school since learning of Rios’ retrial.
Valencia said she worried that Rios would receive preferential treatment at the jail because he knew some of the officers that worked there. But then she remembered that some of the officers he worked with had testified against him at his first trial.
Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm said his officers are handling Rios’ return to Columbia and imminent retrial fairly well.
“We’re not excited about it, but I think our officers were following this issue as it went through the appeals. They know what’s going on,” Boehm said. “I’m sorry we have to go through this process, that our officers have to deal with this again, that the victim’s family has to deal with this again.”
Boehm said the department is not doing anything specific at this point to help officers handle emotional or psychological effects of Rios’ retrial, but that counseling services are available to all officers.
He added that he thinks many officers are prepared to deal with having Rios in Columbia again.
“We talked about this at length the first time, how devastated we all were that someone who was wearing our badge committed those acts,” Boehm said. “But we’re prepared to go back to trial. He was convicted once, and I’m sure he’ll be convicted again.”
Geoffrey Preckshot, a Rios family spokesman and Columbia attorney, said Rios’ family is prepared for the retrial.
“The family continues to have confidence in his innocence and they believe the retrial will vindicate him,” Preckshot said Saturday.
Linda Valencia said some of the media attention the case has received portrayed her son in a negative light. But, she said, Jesse Valencia did not know that Rios was married until shortly before he was killed.
“He didn’t do anything wrong,” she said.
And Linda Valencia also had a message for Rios.
“I want Steven Rios to know that he didn’t only kill my son,” she said. “He destroyed my life and my family’s life.”
— Missourian reporter Chelsea Lee contributed to this report.