Saturday, July 21, 2018

July 21: The Trial Notebook

In the summer of 2004, my sister Bevin got a knock at her door. She was living in Columbia in a house broken into separate spaces for students to rent together, and she was staying there over the summer to fulfill a science credit. It was 2 police officers holding a photo of a body. They asked her if she recognized the man in the photo. Bevin's roommate didn't, but Bevin looked again. "That's Jesse," she blurted--Bevin is a wonderful blurter, and I can hear her voice saying these words even though I wasn't there.

Her neighborhood turned into an crime drama serial episode. She had to show an ID to get home for a week. It was horrible on the face of it: a college student, Jesse, had had his throat cut and left to die between two of the sagging student houses on her street. Jesse was her friend, and her roommates' friend and was at all their gatherings. Jesse was gay, which isn't something I would usually bring up except that it was key to his death.

Police came to talk to them and they of course started talking to each other. Jesse was promiscuous and the friends were worried it would be cast aside. In one conversation between friends, it became clear that they were all thinking about the same missing piece--there was this cop Jesse was seeing on the side, and he bragged that this cop was going to fix some tickets or else he'd be talking to the chief about the affair.

One detective kept talking to the friends, Detective Short (he was), trying to get information on Jesses' life, patterns, job, etc. So the friends called Short and started telling him on the phone that this cop, Ted Anderson, had arrested Jesse at a party at Bevin's house and then they developed a relationship.

Detective Short, to his credit, took them seriously and had them come down and look at a photo lineup of cops. They didn't pick out Anderson. But one of the boys leaned over the desk and whispered, "None of these guys, but he just walked past in the hall." Short leaned out to see, saw who it was, and told the friend he'd be in touch.

Turns out, the cop was sneakier than they suspected, and had stolen Anderson's nametag. He had never told Jesse his real name--but the college students knew his face. He was Steve Rios and everything went quickly from that point.

My sister was a back up witness a year later--she was a potential rebuttal witness if the party was brought up at some point, the party where they met (and she spent the end of in handcuffs on her porch cursing at the officers). This was a horrible place to be, because she couldn't attend the trial until she was dismissed. So I kept a notebook for her, which probably isn't legal, but it allowed me to keep notes straight in my head to talk about that night to her and her friends. I also used it to write down carry-out orders, jot notes to my mom in court, and praise the prosecutor, Morley Swingle.

He was found guilty in 2004; in 2008 he was retried on appeal and given a heavier sentence. He has run out of appeals. He maintains his innocence (as Morley Swingle says, "because he's a scumbag."). Jesse is buried in Kentucky. The story was so richly sordid, interesting, creepy, and horrifying, it was so hard to realize that Steve's and Jesse's families were both sitting in the gallery with us. It was a real story. Each night over the course of the week I would cook dinner for Bevin and her friends; I had Maeve with me, 9 months old, and she got passed around as a reminder that there was still good in the world outside that ugly courtroom. It was so hard it makes me cry even now when I remember it. How many lives Rios ruined. Where those ripples never ever end. Tread lightly.


  1. Wow. Again, I must say, what a story! I see why it still upsets you.

  2. Holy shit, I don't even know how to respond to this. This is true horror. And that one line is a good reminder when listening to true crime podcasts: It was a real story.

  3. And what a story it is! Just like TV . . . only not. I doubt keeping the notebook was illegal in any way. Taking pictures would have been, but reporters take notes in court all the time.

  4. I remember you writing about this. But to have the books. Has there ever been a book about the case? Do you think Morley Swingle will write it? Or ... maybe ... you should.

  5. I can't add anything beyond wow and having these notes is impressive as hell.

  6. What everyone else said. Amazing story your have here.