Gay cop found
guilty of killing lover

Gay cop found
            guilty of killing lover

After a weeklong
trial, jurors deliberated nine hours Saturday before
finding former officer Steve Rios guilty of first-degree
murder and armed criminal action in the June 5 death
of gay college student Jesse Valencia. At the
verdict’s announcement, the victim’s family
and friends sobbed in relief, and the
defendant’s family lowered their heads and
embraced. Rios initially appeared angry and in disbelief. He
didn’t show anguish until he saw his
family’s reaction and then looked down in tears. On the murder conviction Rios earned a sentence
of life in prison without probation or parole.
Prosecutors were not seeking the death penalty. Boone County, Mo., circuit judge Ellen
Roper set a final disposition date of July 5 for
sentencing Rios on the armed criminal action charge.
The jury recommended 10 years in prison on that charge, but
Roper is free to add to that term. Public defender Valerie Leftwich said she
wasn’t surprised by the length of deliberations
because of the sheer number of exhibits and testimony.
However, she was dismayed at the verdict. “I
certainly think there’s reasonable
doubt,” she said. “But you never know what
they jury is going to do. I can’t get into the
minds of those people.” Valencia was last seen alive walking home from a
friend’s party at about 3:40 a.m. on June 5.
His body was found that afternoon in a neighbor’s
yard with arms and legs akimbo and a jagged four-inch gash
across his throat. The investigation twisted upon itself within 24
hours after Valencia’s friends told detectives
he was having an affair with a married police officer,
according to testimony. Valencia was a 23-year-old history major at the
University of Missouri-Columbia. He met Rios when the
officer arrested Valencia on April 18 of last year at
a loud party in the East Campus neighborhood of Columbia. Rios became publicly linked to the case in media
accounts days after the body was found. He twice
threatened to end his life--once with a shotgun and
once by leaping off the ledge of the five-story Maryland
Avenue parking garage. Detectives interviewed him three times before
the suicide threats. He’d confessed to the
affair but denied killing Valencia. Without an
eyewitness to the slaying or the discovery of a weapon, the
investigation dragged. Rios quit his job June 16. Ultimately, the case
solidified when Rios’s DNA was discovered under
Valencia’s right fingernails, and the former
officer was arrested July 1. He then six spent months under observation at a
mental hospital before being transferred in January to
the Boone County Jail, where he’d once worked
as a corrections officer. Special prosecutor Morley Swingle said several
of the jury’s written requests while in
deliberations indicated to him that jurors were
strongly examining the evidence. They first asked for a
large pad of paper and pen, then a map of Columbia and
a list of driving times between the Columbia Police
Department and the victim’s apartment on Wilson
Avenue and the apartment to Rios’s home on Affirmed Drive. When jurors then asked to review the probability
statistics for DNA evidence discovered under the
victim’s fingernails and hairs found on his
shaved chest, Swingle suspected jurors believed Rios had
enough time kill Valencia after he left the police
station and before the time his wife testified she saw
him enter their home. Swingle wasn’t surprised Rios testified
on Friday. “I expected it,” he said.
“I could tell he was an arrogant, conceited
sociopath. And so I had my cross-examination written a
month ago.” Some of the most explosive aspects of the
prosecution’s case never made it to the
courtroom. Testimony that would have been considered hearsay
wasn’t admitted, including that several of the
state’s witnesses overheard Valencia refer to
Rios as “Anderson,” because that's what Rios
told him his real name was, Swingle said. Investigators suspected Rios not only told
Valencia that Anderson was his name but that he wore a
false name tag, Swingle said, adding that Columbia
police Officer Ted Anderson’s uniform name tag
disappeared earlier this year and was never found. Swingle also never got an opening to call four
special witnesses who were waiting in a room elsewhere
in the courthouse because neither Rios nor any of the
defense witnesses testified to the issue of his moral
character or past incidents of becoming involved with people
he’s arrested. Three women were prepared to testify that Rios
propositioned them for sex after he’d arrested
them on various charges. The women described it as
“creepy,” Swingle said. In addition, a Boone County deputy was ready to
testify why Rios lost his job as a county jail
corrections officer in 1999 after only one month.
Swingle said Rios forged a friend’s name on a storage
locker rental application without telling the friend,
then put his own personal property in a locker next to
it. The alleged offense constituted forgery and theft,
but no charges were filed. (Mike Wells, Advocate/Sirius OutQ

Tags: World, World

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