A former Columbia, Mo., policeman pleaded not guilty Tuesday in the slaying of a gay college student. A trial date for Steven A. Rios was to be set later Tuesday by Boone County circuit judge Gene Hamilton.
Rios, 27, is charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the July 1 slaying of Jesse James Valencia, a student at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Rios had arrested the student in April for interfering with him and another officer as they answered a police call about a loud party. Police have said that was apparently the first time the men met. Police say Rios, who is married, acknowledged having a sexual relationship with Valencia. They also said Rios killed Valencia with a knife after the student threatened to tell the police chief about the relationship.
Rios appeared before Hamilton with his public defender. The former policeman has twice threatened suicide and is being held in a state mental hospital at Fulton pending trial. He resigned from the police department before being charged.
Valencia, 23, was last seen at a party early July 1 in his neighborhood east of the university. A neighbor in the building reported hearing Valencia arguing with someone early that morning. The student's body was found later that day in a nearby yard. Valencia's throat had been cut. Special prosecutor Morley Swingle, of Cape Girardeau, said lab tests showed Rios's DNA under Valencia's fingernails.
Linda Valencia, of Perryville, Ky., the mother of the slain student, watched Rios's arraignment, holding a silver-edged photo album with snapshots of her son--pictures from infancy, family gatherings, and school formals. "I'm doing a lot of praying," she said. "It's been very hard for me and for my family. I thank everyone for all the prayers."
Rios and his attorneys have declined comment. But in a telephone call this summer from the hospital to a columnist for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Rios was asked whether he killed Valencia. "I'm not going to get into it," he replied. Conviction of first-degree murder is punishable in Missouri only by death or life in prison without parole. Armed criminal action is punishable by prison sentences ranging from three years to life.