Jeffrey Trevino testimony begins: ‘This case is about rage’

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 20, 2013 - 10:08 AM

In first day of trial in death of Kira Steger, the defense downplayed forensic findings.

Jeffery Trevino displayed an unusual calm in the aftermath of his wife’s disappearance last winter and even referred to her in the past tense, according to witnesses who testified Thursday on the opening day of Trevino’s murder trial.

That calm, according to prosecutors, masked an intense rage that Trevino harbored against his wife, Kira Steger, over her involvement with another man.

“The case you’re about to hear is about rage,” Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Andrew Johnson told jurors during opening statements. “It’s about jealousy. It’s about deception. It’s about a cover-up.

“She wanted to leave, but he didn’t want to let her go.”

Trevino’s attorney, John Conard, told the eight men and six women on the jury that the case against his client is built on circumstance and exaggerations about the evidence, including the authorities’ claim that large amounts of blood were found in the couple’s rented home in St. Paul.

“There is less than a thimble of [Kira Steger’s] blood in the bedroom,” Conard said. “That will become critical.”

Details about Steger emerged as well, including a friend’s testimony that girlfriends had become worried about her drinking and “staying out late,” and that Steger was having an affair with a superior at work that she hid from close friends.

The case against Trevino, 39, began with the Feb. 22 disappearance of his wife, which led to intensive searches by police and volunteers who came from across the metro area. The searches continued through the late winter and spring until Steger’s body was recovered from the Mississippi River on May 8. Trevino’s arrest came well before his wife’s remains were found, and he now stands charged with second-degree murder in Ramsey County District Court.

More than a dozen of Steger’s family members and friends sat near the front of the courtroom Thursday as about half a dozen of Trevino’s family members and supporters sat across the aisle. The packed courtroom included about five citizens who helped search for Steger’s body.

‘I thought I knew her’

Trevino reported his wife missing to police Feb. 24.

Friend Jazmine McLaughlin, who worked with Steger at Delia’s at the Mall of America, said Trevino called her at the store on Feb. 23 and 24 about his wife’s whereabouts.

Steger’s car was found abandoned in a mall ramp Feb. 25 with what appeared to be blood on the trunk.

McLaughlin said that when she shared the news about the car’s discovery with Trevino, “He handled it very calmly even though I was hysterical.”

Steger’s sister Keri Anne testified that when she called Trevino after Kira disappeared that he badmouthed his wife instead of asking for help finding her.

He also wanted to change Steger’s Facebook password even though Keri Anne Steger said she lobbied against it in case her sister wanted to contact family members through the social media site.

Steger said Trevino told her that his wife had been drinking and partying recently.

“ ‘Well, Keri Anne, I thought I knew her,’ ” he said, according to her testimony. “ ‘I loved her.’ ”

“I asked him why he was talking about my sister in the past tense,” Steger said, her voice straining with so much emotion that she had to repeat the sentence. “He got very upset.”

Cut to the bone

In presenting the first arguments for the defense, Conard told jurors that autopsy results show that someone used a sharp blade to cut Kira Steger to the bone above her left eyebrow and that she was alive when the wound was inflicted. Such an injury would have bled “cups and cups” of blood, he said.

An abrasion in her mouth showed that she could have been smothered, and it appears that someone snapped one of her fingers back during an apparent attack, Conard added.

Meanwhile, Matthew Roff, who lived with Steger and Trevino and was home Feb. 21, testified that he didn’t see or hear anything unusual inside the house that day.

The prosecution and defense are also set to clash on forensic evidence about the contents of Steger’s stomach that will be presented later.

Steger had dinner with Trevino the last day she was seen alive, Feb. 21, and ate sushi and lamb meatballs, which would have been digested in five to seven hours, Johnson told jurors. But fish was found in her stomach, he said.

Conard, however, argued that Steger’s small and large intestines were clean, indicating a more complete digestion.

That widens the window of time Steger could have been killed, and accommodates Trevino’s story to police that she left between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 22 to run errands.

Prosecutors believe she was likely killed between 12:30 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. that day.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708

Twitter: @ChaoStrib





  • Trevino case timeline

    Early February: Jeffery Trevino borrows a carpet cleaner from Kira Steger’s mother, who lives in Wisconsin.

    Feb. 21: Steger has dinner and goes bowling with Trevino at the Mall of America, where she worked. She texts another man she is romantically linked to as he is traveling through South Dakota en route to Colorado.

    Steger and Trevino go home and watch a movie while their roommate is downstairs in the basement. It is the last time she is seen alive.

    Feb. 22: Steger fails to show up at the gym, a tanning salon or at work. She doesn’t make a scheduled phone call for a job interview.

    Feb. 24: Trevino reports Steger missing to police at 10:25 a.m. and notifies her family.

    Feb. 25: Police find Steger’s car in a Mall of America ramp. Her blood is found in the trunk. Her purse and divorce papers are also recovered.

    Authorities search the couple’s St. Paul home and find alleged blood evidence and alleged signs of a cover-up. Steger’s blood is found inside her mother’s carpet cleaner.

    Feb. 26: Trevino is arrested.

    Feb. 28: Trevino is charged with two counts of second-degree murder in his wife’s disappearance.

    March 16: Steger’s grandfather finds a bag containing a bloody pillow, a pillowcase, a sports bra, a shirt and a sponge at Keller Lake, about a mile northeast of the couple’s house. Steger’s DNA is identified on the pillow.

    April 2: A resident finds Steger’s driver’s license in a ditch near Edgerton Street and Koehler Road in Vadnais Heights, about 4½ miles north of the couple’s house.

    May 8: A barge mechanic finds Steger’s body in the Mississippi River in downtown St. Paul, about five miles south of the couple’s house. It is so badly decomposed it is identified via dental records.

    Sept. 16: Trevino’s murder trial starts with jury selection.

    Domestic abuse victims can call the 24-hour hot line, Day One, for help: 1-866-223-1111.

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