Smart, handsome and outgoing, Jesse Valencia had a thriving
social life at the University of Missouri, where the gay 23-year-old
was majoring in political science and history. "He was modelesque,
and he thought of himself that way," one former lover testified at
the trial of the man accused of slashing Valencia's throat last
Department Patrolman Steven Rios, a married father, was arrested for
Valencia's first-degree murder. Although the 27-year-old initially
said his only contact with Valencia was issuing him a ticket at an
out-of-control student party, the officer later admitted he was
having a torrid affair with the younger man.
At his July 9, 2004,
arraignment, Rios (seen here with Boone County Judge Christine
Carpenter and attorney Rusty Antel) was confined to a mental
hospital. He had threatened to kill himself with a shotgun soon
after the media reported the affair with Valencia. Later, he escaped
from the facility and stood on the ledge of a parking structure,
saying he wanted to jump. Crisis negotiators talked him down, but
Rios remained in the mental-health center until recently, when he
was moved to jail.
Rios, seen here May
17, 2005, as his trial got under way in Boone County Circuit Court,
maintains that he is innocent, and his lawyers have suggested there
are better suspects among Valencia's other lovers. "There will be
evidence that Jesse Valencia had sexual contact with a lot of men he
picked up over the Internet or that he picked up in a bar, including
Steven Rios," his lawyer, Valerie Leftwich, told the jury during
Rios, who frequently
worked with prosecutors as a police officer, confers with his public
defenders, Stephen Richey and Valerie Leftwich. At the time of his
arrest, about 50 cases in Boone County rested at least in part on
the testimony of patrolman Rios.
Police detective Jeff
Nichols, one of the first investigators at the crime scene,
testifies about the four-inch gash on Valencia's neck. The medical
examiner said the fact no blood ran down Valencia's chest indicated
he was already disabled perhaps by a choke hold and lying on the
ground when his assailant cut his throat.
The victim's mother,
Linda Valencia, traveled from her home in Kentucky to attend the
trial. She told police that her son had talked to her about being
scared of Rios, but special prosecutor Morley Swingle opted not to
call her as a witness. Friends of Valencia have said he suspected
Rios was married and planned to confront him.
Todd Burke, a law
enforcement academy instructor, uses prosecutor Morley Swingle to
demonstrate the choke hold known as a unilateral vascular neck
restraint he taught Rios and his classmates. According to the
medical examiner, bruises on Valencia's neck, face and chest are
consistent with the application of the hold, which can render a
suspect unconscious in as little as three seconds.
Rios broke down in
tears after his friend and fellow officer, James Means, testified. "Steve
was a good friend of mine," the officer testified before recalling
Rios' cold, distant demeanor when he reported to the scene of
Valencia's murder. "Something was wrong," he recalled.
Columbia police Sgt.
John White demonstrates where many officers carry their clip-on
pocket knives. Rios told investigators he never carried such a knife,
but several officers said they remembered Rios carrying one in his
uniform pants. A search of his home, SUV and police locker came up
empty. The prosecution has suggested he used a serrated blade to
slash Valencia's throat and then disposed of the murder weapon.
Jack Barry, an
education major who dated Valencia on and off for two years before
his death, testifies that the victim had a special electronic
manicure kit to buff his nails. The attention Valencia paid to his
nails is important because lab technicians recovered the DNA of Rios
and another lover under his nails. The defense claims the DNA is
left over from their last sexual encounter which Rios said was six
days prior to the murder but the prosecution has suggested the
material would have been washed away with regular cleaning, and the
DNA indicates Rios was at the murder scene.
Jesse Valencia's best
friend, Joan Sheridan, wept as she described his personality and
appearance. "He looked way younger than he was," she said of the 23-year-old.
She said the vivacious young man spoke to her just three days before
the murder about his plans to confront Rios.
Rios' wife, Libby,
seen here in court May 17, 2005, is expected to take the stand on
his behalf. She saw him immediately after the time prosecutors
allege he committed the murder.
officer Jim Harmon shows jurors photos of the interior of Valencia's
home, a messy basement apartment about a block from campus. The
cleanliness of the apartment, which was strewn with empty bottles,
clothes and one used condom, has become a key point for the defense.
Rios' lawyers have suggested that Valencia's lackadaisical approach
to hygiene and housekeeping explains Rios' DNA under the victim's
arguments on May 20, 2005, prosecutor Morley Swingle displayed a
Smith & Wesson knife found in Rios' police locker. The weapon was
not used in the murder. Swingle alleged Rios disposed of the blade
he used to slash Jesse Valencia's throat. "It's somewhere in the
river, somewhere in the storm sewer. We don't know where it is
because he got rid of it," Swingle told jurors.
The defendant's wife,
Libby Rios, burst into tears on the witness stand Friday as she
recalled returning home the day after she learned of his affair to
find that her husband was threatening suicide. "When we came home,
my sister-in-law met us at the door and said Steven was on the phone
and he had a gun," she said.
Steven Rios was the
final witness for the defense. He maintained his innocence and
revealed details of his affair with the 23-year-old college student,
including Valencia's signal that he wanted to meet for sex. "I think
the wording or what we agreed on was that if he had someone there,
he would have the light off," Rios testified.
At several points in
his testimony, Rios choked with emotion, including during his
account of seeing his face in television reports. "The reporter had
said there was a bombshell in the Jesse Valencia homicide and the
chief had notified media outlets the night before that I had gone to
Kansas City and purchased a shotgun and had threatened to commit
suicide They had my official picture in uniform up there," he said.
In his summation on
May 20, 2005, prosecutor Morley Swingle called Jesse Valencia's
murder "despicable" and said of Rios, "He used his badge for sex and
then used his knife to forever close the mouth of his secret lover."
In her closing
argument, defense attorney Valerie Leftwich said Rios's DNA on the
victim's body proved only that they had once been in intimate
contact. "You have got to have evidence that he killed Jesse
Valencia, not just that he had sex with him," she told the jury.
mother, Linda, sobbed and hugged Andrew Schermerhorn, a friend of
and witness for the prosecution, after the verdict was
Rios cried and looked
at his wife, Libby, after a jury convicted him of murdering Jesse