Victim's Mother Responds to KOMU 8 Report on Steven Rios
COLUMBIA - Two months after KOMU 8 News aired a three-part series on former Columbia police officer and convicted murderer Steven Rios, the mother of victim Jesse Valencia met with reporters Danny Spewak and Danielle McCarthy Friday to offer reaction to the story.
KOMU 8 originally chose not to contact Linda Valencia out of respect to her privacy, and some viewers criticized us for that decision. Valencia said Friday she would not have submitted to an interview at that time anyway. She said she harbors no hard feelings toward KOMU 8 for reporting on her son's murder case almost a decade after the fact, but she felt compelled to respond to Rios' repeated claims of his innocence. She agreed to the interview on Friday after driving from Kentucky to Columbia to interview with NBC and Peacock Productions, which saw the KOMU 8 series and decided to film an episode about the Rios and Valencia case for a new Investigation Discovery show called "Deadline: Crime with Tamron Hall." After sitting down with the national outlet on Friday morning, she decided she wanted to offer local mid-Missouri viewers her perspective of the series.
KOMU 8 News spent nine months revisiting the case from start to finish for the series. The reports provided an overall view of the case, explained why Rios was convicted and then offered new voices from his ex-wife and ex-in-laws, all of whom proclaimed his innocence. Their interviews broke almost a decade of silence--they had previously stayed out of the public eye.
In 2005, and again at a retrial in 2008, jurors convicted Rios of murdering Valencia outside his East Campus apartment in Columbia on June 5, 2004. They convicted him on the theory that Rios feared losing his job and family if anyone were to find out about his sexual affair with Valencia.
Rios admitted to the affair in court, but he did not admit to the murder. He was sentenced to life in prison for the second-degree murder of Valencia. He is currently serving that sentence at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, SD., where KOMU 8 visited him this fall.
Linda Valencia spoke for close to a half an hour on Friday. Here are a few key parts of that interview:
"I know what my son was like. I know what a wonderful, amazing, compassionate person he was. I don't really get angry when people do interviews and shows, but I always feel like I have to come out here and try to straighten out whatever they say bad about him. I'm not saying Jesse was perfect, but even if he wasn't, he did not deserve to die the way that he did."
"I understand that [Rios's] family goes through a lot, I have a lot of compassion for his family. For his ex-wife. For his son. For his parents. Her parents. I understand that they miss him and they want him out, but he has to pay for what he did to my son."
"As far as Rios talking about missing his family, I sometimes wonder how he can even say something like that. Because I'm doing without my son."
"I miss him every heartbeat. It's every single day. I don't know if he doesn't have any compassion or any kind of scruples or anything at all, because when I wake up every day, the first thing that comes into my mind is, ‘Jesse's gone and he's not coming back,' and then the second thing I say is that I'm not ever going to get any better. I'm still in therapy. I still have to deal with this every single day. I still have nightmares."
"It was on Jesse's birthday that I saw (KOMU 8's series), on the 22nd of February, so I was very angry and upset, not at you guys, but at the fact that he was, again, right up in my face. It seems like he's been in my life forever."
"He's up for parole in 2035. I'll be about 75 years old. I got concerned that I wouldn't live that long so I actually contacted the parole board so they let me do a video of how it had affected my life and my family's life, so even if he goes up for parole, even if I'm not here, I'm still going to be fighting."
"I sometimes feel like if maybe I could just talk to him in person and just ask him to please stop... because he's destroyed my life. I just wonder how he lives with himself each day."
"He still has his life. He can still see his son. He can still see his family. I don't begrudge him that, and I really feel so sorry for his family that they have to go through what they do. But they have to look at it from my point of view and the fact that I'm letting this destroy my life."
"I never go over to the spot where I know that my son lay dying. I've never been able to go past the corner of the street there where we set up a small memorial there, down below where he was killed. I've never been able to go to the spot where he died. It's hard for me to even go to that corner."