The St. Paul man convicted of killing his wife in a jealous rage and then dumping her body in the Mississippi River, where it lay undiscovered for months, is seeking to have his conviction overturned by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
Attorney John Conard, representing Jeffery Trevino, argued before the Appeals Court on Thursday that his client’s conviction should be reversed, that he should be granted a new trial, and that his sentence should be dramatically reduced because of erroneous interpretations of law and circumstantial evidence at trial.
Trevino, 41, was convicted in October 2013 of second-degree unintentional murder for killing Kira Steger. Ramsey County jurors acquitted him of second-degree intentional murder. He is serving 27½ years in prison, nearly twice the maximum recommended by state guidelines.
Steger, 30, was last seen alive on Feb. 21, 2013. Her body was recovered from the Mississippi on May 8. Steger had been having an affair with another man, and was texting with him as late as 11:44 p.m. the last day she was seen alive.
Steger’s and Trevino’s families were in court on Thursday.
Steger’s parents, Jay Steger and Marcie Steger, said they believed that the Ramsey County attorney’s office would prevail in the appeals case.
“I have faith in the system,” Marcie Steger said after the hearing.
Conard argued that the trial court failed to instruct jurors about circumstantial evidence and that Steger’s injuries rose to the level of third-degree assault, while Minnesota law requires second- or first-degree assault to occur for a conviction for second-degree unintentional murder.
He also argued that it was not possible that Steger was slain that night in the couple’s home in the 500 block of E. Iowa Avenue. Evidence shows that if Steger had been killed then, more food would have been in her digestive tract and neighbors or a roommate sleeping in the couple’s basement would have heard a struggle and screams, he argued.
Instead, Conard wrote in a brief, evidence supports Trevino’s version of events in which he and his wife went to sleep, woke up on Feb. 22 and went their separate ways. “Mr. Trevino’s statement, and the rational hypothesis that [Steger] was killed outside the home by someone else, simply cannot be eliminated,” Conard wrote.
Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Thomas Ragatz argued that Trevino’s conviction can’t be overturned because of “mere conjecture” on Conard’s part.
Trevino’s version of events is “suspicious,” Ragatz said, because Kira Steger didn’t text anyone the morning of Feb. 22 and because Trevino forged her name on a rent check, knowing that she was dead.
When Jay Steger arrived at the Minnesota Judicial Center for the hearing on Thursday, he spotted Trevino’s mother across the hall, and for the first time since his daughter’s disappearance ripped the families apart two years ago, he approached the Trevinos.
“I gave Mrs. Trevino a hug, and I told her I feel her pain,” Jay Steger said. “I do respect their family, because my daughter loved that family like her own. That did help me to get some closure. We just talked about Kira.”
The Appeals Court has up to 90 days to issue a decision.