Missouri College Student Brutally Killed By Cop Who Started Sexual Relationship With Him After Arrest

Investigators believe Jesse Valencia threatened to expose married father and patrolman Steven Rios’ involvement with him.

Jesse Valencia, pictured here, was brutally murdered on June 5, 2004 by a police officer who he had been secretly seeing.

Investigators believe Jesse Valencia threatened to expose married father and patrolman Steven Rios’ involvement with him shortly before he was murdered.

Photo by: Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. (Screenshot from ID's "A Time To Kill")

Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. (Screenshot from ID's "A Time To Kill")

By: Aaron Rasmussen

The murder of a student in Missouri stunned a college campus, but the discovery of who committed the brutal crime sent shockwaves through the entire community.

On June 5, 2004, a group of students found a man dead a block from his apartment in the college town of Columbia. The victim, lying face-up, was wearing only a pair of Umbro shorts. He had suffered a deep gash to the neck as well as bruising to the top of his chest and the area between his shoulder blades. The medical examiner determined the victim was likely choked or strangled and lost consciousness before his throat was slit.

Police launched an investigation and collected forensic evidence, including nail scrapings and hairs found on the victim’s shaved chest. At the scene, an officer said he recognized the slain man as a student who was arrested the previous April for a noise violation. The victim was identified as 23-year-old University of Missouri junior Jesse Valencia.

A neighbor who had been out drinking the night Valencia died told police he heard bumping and loud noises coming from inside Valencia’s apartment sometime between 3 a.m. and 5:44 a.m.

After clearing multiple suspects, Columbia police got a break in the case after they received an anonymous tip that one of their officers was in a sexual relationship with Valencia. The tipster didn’t name the officer but did mention the name Andy Schermerhorn, a friend of the victim.

Schermerhorn described his relationship with Valencia, a fellow pre-law student, to detectives as “friends with benefits,” retired Det. Michael Lederle recalled. “Andy confirmed that, in fact, Jesse did have an affair with a Columbia police officer.”

Schermerhorn said Valencia and the cop first met when the officer broke up a party thrown by Valencia’s friends on April 18, 2004. When an allegedly intoxicated Valencia asked the officer for probable cause for arresting his friend on a noise violation, the cop also arrested him for obstructing a government operation.

Valencia was quickly released with just a ticket. According to Boone County Special Prosecutor Morley Swingle, the officer and Valencia began a sexual relationship that same evening when the officer stopped by Valencia’s home at 3 a.m.

Schermerhorn was able to eventually identify the officer as 27-year-old Steven Rios, a married father who was a patrolman and three-year veteran of the department.

When detectives confronted Rios, he initially denied the affair accusations but then admitted to the sexual relationship when presented with the evidence and statements of the victim’s friends.

Rios continued to deny he had anything to do with Valencia’s murder. Following his interview, Rios provided a DNA sample, which was later matched to the forensic evidence collected from beneath Valencia’s fingernails. The limb hair found on Valencia’s chest at the time of the murder was also a match with Rios’ DNA.

Investigators determined the unexplained bruises on the victim’s body may have come from the officer administering a police chokehold, or a lateral vascular neck restraint, after the two got into a dispute. Authorities believe Valencia was upset that the ticket he had received in connection with the party never went away, and he threatened to expose the officer.

“Rios, this politically ambitious officer, is feeling that his whole career is about to end, and he’s just not going to let that happen,” Swingle said.

The investigation into Valencia’s murder concluded with Rios being charged with first-degree murder.

At trial, prosecutors alleged the night Valencia died, he may have threatened to expose Rios’ affair with him and then fled the apartment following an argument. Prosecutors theorized Rios chased down Valencia, put him in a chokehold and then slit the unconscious student’s throat.

Rios was found guilty of second-degree murder and armed criminal action in 2008. He was sentenced to life behind bars for murder and 23 years for the armed criminal action charge.

For more on this case, stream A Time To Kill: "Admit The Affair, Deny The Murder" on discovery+.

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