Police seek clues in weekend death of U. of Mo. student

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- Police investigating the weekend slaying of a University of Missouri-Columbia student acknowledged Wednesday he was an acquaintance of a Columbia police officer, who they said is not a suspect.

Jesse Valencia, a junior history major from Kentucky who worked as a night desk clerk at a local hotel, was found dead Saturday afternoon outside a residence about a block from his apartment. His throat had been slashed. Valencia, 23, was last seen about 3:30 a.m. that day, leaving a party in a campus neighborhood.

Two detectives working on the case spoke to patrons of the SoCo Club Monday night prior to a benefit show for an annual gay pride event. They distributed photos Valencia and sought information from anyone who might have known or seen him.

Asked whether Valencia might have been attacked because of sexual orientation, Capt. Mike Martin said, "There's been nothing to indicate this was a hate crime."

On Wednesday, the police department issued a statement saying it had confirmed that a Columbia police officer "knew the victim on a personal level."

"We have thoroughly investigated all information related to this officer's possible involvement to this case," said Police Chief R. G. Boehm. "This officer is not a suspect in this case."

Ryan Kepner, a resident of the building where Valencia had a basement apartment, said he heard bumping noises coming from the apartment early Saturday. He said he heard Valencia repeating "Stop it" and "No" for about five minutes, between 3:30 and 4 a.m.

"The impression I got was that he was trying to kick somebody out of the apartment that didn't want to go," Kepner said. "After a while, I yelled back at the wall, saying, 'Yeah, stop it,' because I couldn't get to sleep. Then it was over. The noise stopped."

University spokesman Latisha Dwiggins said Valencia transferred to Missouri in the fall of 2002 from Earlham College in Indiana.

"He was quiet in class, but he was very energetic in a one-on-one conversation, very lively," said Professor Ian Worthington. "In class, he liked to sit toward the back, but nine times out of 10 when I called upon him, he had the answer."

Two letters from Valencia were published this year in The Maneater, the student-run newspaper at the university. In January, he wrote about the presidential race. A second letter in March voiced support of marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

Valencia graduated from Boyle County High School in Kentucky in 1999.

His survivors include his parents, Linda Baugh Valencia, of Perryville, Ky.; and Lupe Valencia, of Springfield, Ky.; and two sisters, Maria and Rachel Valencia, of Perryville. His funeral will be Friday at the Wilder Funeral Home in Perryville.

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