Ex-Columbia cop gets life in student slaying

Friday, January 16, 2009

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- A former Columbia police officer received a life sentence Friday for killing a male University of Missouri student with whom he had an affair.

Under state sentencing laws, Steven Rios, 31, will spend at least 25 years in prison for killing 23-year-old Jesse Valencia in 2004. That term will be followed by at least three years behind bars as part of a 23-year sentence for armed criminal action. The lesser sentence will run consecutive to the second-degree murder sentence.

"He's not going to be walking the streets for a very long time," said prosecutor Morley Swingle, who normally works in Cape Girardeau and handled the case because of Rios' ties to Columbia police.

Rios was convicted last month of killing Valencia to keep the student from disclosing his affair with the married officer and father. Prosecutors contended Rios used a choke hold he learned during police training to render Valencia unconscious before slashing the young man's throat.

The affair began after Rios arrested Valencia for interfering with him and another officer as they answered a police call about a loud party.

Rios, wearing a striped prison jumpsuit, showed no emotion when Conley delivered his decision and subsequent sentence Friday.

The victim's mother, Linda Valencia of Perryville, Ky., took the stand and spoke briefly about her son's death.

"We lost one of the most wonderful, compassionate people in this world," she said. "My whole family has suffered ... Being without Jesse is the most devastating part. We're never going to get him back."

It was the second time Rios had been sentence in Valencia's slaying. He was originally convicted in May 2005 of first-degree murder and sentenced in July 2005 to life without parole. But the Missouri Court of Appeals' Western District overturned that conviction in 2007 because of problems with two hearsay statements.

Before sentencing Friday, defense attorney Gillis Leonard asked Boone County Circuit Judge Frank Conley to overturn Rios' December conviction by a Clay County jury and declare a mistrial. Leonard argued that two female jurors discussed the case privately in a courthouse bathroom during deliberations.

The judge then summoned the chief marshal for the 13th Circuit Judicial Circuit, which covers Boone and Callaway counties. The marshal testified that jurors were under the watch of his officers throughout the trial.

"The court finds no evidence of separation (from the rest of jury)," Conley ruled.

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