Jeffery Trevino was convicted Wednesday of killing his wife, ending the anxious waiting for friends and family of Kira Steger, who was missing for more than two months before her body was found in the Mississippi River.
"I believe Kira would be very happy that he was found guilty," her mother, Marcie Steger, said outside the Ramsey County Courthouse. "Unfortunately she's not here. At least he's not walking around. He was found accountable."
After she disappeared in February, hundreds of volunteers scoured woods and lakes in an unusually bitter winter searching for Steger, whose disappearance quickly became a public cause and rallying point against domestic violence. She was among the first of several Minnesota women killed in domestic violence incidents this year, some in eerily similar circumstances. Finally, her body turned up in May near a barge in the Mississippi River.
On Wednesday, more than two dozen of Steger's family members and friends sat in court as the jury of four women and eight men filed in and delivered the verdict after eight days of testimony and 17 hours of deliberation. Her father, Jay Steger, dabbed at his eyes with a tissue and glanced sympathetically at Trevino's parents. Trevino's family sat across the aisle, his sister crying loudly on their mother's shoulder.
Jurors heard testimony that the couple were on the verge of divorce and viewed several photos of bloodstains in their master bedroom before determining that Trevino was guilty of second degree murder without intent. He was acquitted of one count of second degree murder with intent, meaning jurors believe he didn't mean to kill her.
Jay Steger said his heart sank when the acquittal was read first, but said that the family is glad there was a conviction on the second count, which carries a maximum of 40 years in prison, as did the count on which Trevino was acquitted.
Trevino's sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 25. District Judge Leonardo Castro will also issue his decision on whether there were aggravating factors in the case that merit an upward departure for Trevino's sentence.
"The amount of time he's looking at isn't enough," Jay Steger said. "I don't care if he got a hundred years. It still wouldn't have been enough."
Steger, 30, was last seen alive in public on Feb. 21 while on a date night with Trevino, 39, at the Mall of America, where she worked as co-manager of the clothing retailer Delia's. He reported her missing to police on Feb. 24, her father's birthday. Her body was recovered from the Mississippi River on May 8, a cut to the bone over her left eyebrow, her left index finger snapped above the knuckle, a tear above her lip and abrasions on the inside of her mouth that indicate she was likely smothered and possibly punched.
Assistant Ramsey County attorneys Richard Dusterhoft and Andrew Johnson told jurors that Trevino killed Steger in a jealous rage because she was having an affair with a co-worker and wanted a divorce. Trevino's attorney, John Conard, said there were too many holes in the prosecution's forensic evidence and that someone else killed Steger and stole her iPhone, which was activated on March 22 and sold online to a buyer in Indonesia.
Prosecutors said Trevino killed Steger after he got fed up with her texting the co-worker throughout their date night. Her last text to the man was at 11:44 p.m. telling him that the Minnesota Wild won their game. Prosecutors believe Trevino killed her in their master bedroom within two hours of that text message, put her in the trunk of her car, fueled the car at a gas station on Larpenteur Avenue about 2:10 a.m. on Feb. 22, and dumped her in the river.
Steger's family waited months to find her, and even longer to lay her to rest. Steger's body will finally be released to her family now that the trial is over.
"It will be so nice to at least have her home," her mother said.
They plan to hold a service in Wausau, Wis., where they live, and scatter her ashes in Costa Rica. A memorial service in the Twin Cities for the community members who helped search is tentatively scheduled. Marcie Steger said the family couldn't finalize any plans during the trial.
"I plan on putting her ashes in Costa Rica, because that's where she always wanted to be," Jay Steger said. As he recalled his daughter's love of the country and her hopes of returning there to teach English to children, Jay Steger also reflected on the grief visited upon Trevino's family, who traveled from Arkansas for the 2 ½-week trial.
Kira Steger was close to the family, and Trevino's 15-year-old daughter testified that she and Steger got along well. "I wanted to talk to them," Jay Steger said, "and tell them I know what they're going through, and it's not their fault."
Jay Steger wore a purple bracelet around one wrist in memory of Mandy Matula, an Eden Prairie woman who remains missing and is feared murdered by her boyfriend, who committed suicide. The similarities between the cases and the recent disappearance and death of Anarae Schunk shocked him. Schunk went missing after meeting with an ex-boyfriend on Sept. 21, and was found dead Monday in a roadside ditch.
"There's so much tragedy going on in this area," Jay Steger said. "It's just astonishing."
Trevino's family left without comment. Conard said they were disappointed with the conviction.
"Everybody's hurting," Conrad said. "It's just a tragedy."
Staff writer Nicole Norfleet contributed to this report.