Trevino murder trial begins


Jeffery Trevino

Kira Steger

Trial could take three weeks or more

The trial of East Side resident Jeffery Trevino, 39, in the February disappearance of his wife, Kira Steger, 30, began Monday, Sept. 16. Opening statements were made on the morning of Thursday, Sept. 19.

Trevino only spoke once to greet Judge Leonardo Castro and appeared pale and tired.

Family members from the Trevino and Steger family were also present at the Ramsey County Courthouse. Jay Steger, Kira’s father and organizer of a number of searches in the metro area, seemed anxious to begin listening to attorneys’ arguments.

Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Andrew Johnson opened the trial by displaying a photo of a smiling Kira Steger and describing how Trevino reacted to his failing marriage.

“This case is about rage. This case is about jealousy, deception and a cover up,” Johnson said. “This case is about a failed marriage that came to an abrupt and gruesome end.”

Trevino pleaded not guilty to second degree murder counts and requested a speedy trial at an omnibus probable cause hearing in March. He continues to be held at the Ramsey County jail, where he has been unable to post a $1 million bond since his arrest Feb. 26.

More than 55 witnesses, including family members, security guards, medical examiners and police officers, are expected to give testimony during the trial, which is anticipated to take three or more weeks.

An unraveling marriage

Before her disappearance, Steger was seeing another man and had expressed to those close to her that she was planning on ending her marriage to Trevino. According to friends, Trevino was increasingly “suspicious” of what Steger was doing when they were apart, but hoped to reconcile with her.

Steger was last seen publicly at the Mall of America, where she worked, on the evening of Feb. 21. She and Trevino had gone to dinner and bowling as a date night at the shopping center. Trevino says the two then rented a movie and returned to their home, where they fell asleep watching the film.

Trevino told police he saw Steger texting as she left the couple’s home on East Iowa Street to run errands the morning of Feb. 22. However, phone records indicate the last time her cell phone was used was to send a text at 11:45 p.m. Feb. 21.

During a search of the home, investigators found evidence of enough blood to assume Steger had been killed. Bleach and other cleaning products found in the carpet, towels and clothing fibers in the home have rendered some samples, including a large head and torso-shaped stain on the carpet, unusable.

Defense attorney John Conard says despite investigators’ claims that there were “copious” amounts of blood in the home, the actual amount of blood in the couple’s bedroom was negligible.

“You will hear about how much blood was in their home,” Conard said, addressing the jury. “But in reality, there was less than a thimble of blood in the master bedroom.”

Steger’s blood was also identified in the trunk of her vehicle, which had been dropped off at a Mall of America parking ramp the morning of Feb. 22. In surveillance videos, a figure, whom prosecutors believe to be Trevino, can be seen exiting the vehicle and getting into a taxi, which dropped the person off a few blocks from the couple’s home.

Matthew Roff, the couple’s roommate who lived in the basement of the home, has remained adamant that although he was home the evening of Feb. 21, he did not see or hear anything unusual. Johnson alleged that Roff told detectives he was a “heavy sleeper.”

Searches prove fruitful

Volunteer searches of the area led to the discovery of a bag of bloody clothing at Keller Lake Regional Park in Maplewood. DNA analysis proved the blood was Steger’s. Steger’s driver’s license was found by a Vadnais Heights resident cleaning a ditch not far from a Wal-mart where Trevino bought cleaning supplies shortly after Steger’s disappearance.

Despite the lack of a body, the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office planned to move forward with the trial until a breakthrough in early May when Steger’s naked and bruised body was recovered from the Mississippi River. The corpse had a cut to the bone on the forehead, a broken finger, which has been determined to have been snapped by human force, and liver lacerations. Additionally, a wad of duct tape was stuck in her hair.

The Ramsey County medical examiner determined the manner of death was “homicidal violence.” Conard revealed to the court that bruises on Steger’s lip and around the mouth could be consistent with smothering.

Prosecutors say the undigested food in Steger’s stomach gives examiners an approximate time of death between 12:30 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. Feb. 21. Tests show that the food in her stomach match what the couple ate during their date that evening.

“If she lived to the next morning (as Trevino says), there wouldn’t be food in her stomach (because it would have been digested),” Johnson argued.

Departure from sentencing guidelines

While the numerous pieces of evidence including surveillance footage, receipts and photos of the couple’s home may provide jurors plenty to consider, Johnson warned the jury that missing pieces of evidence in some areas could be “frustrating.”

If convicted, Trevino faces a “double upward durational departure” from Minnesota state sentencing guidelines. The departure is justified, the prosecution says, by two aggravating factors. The first states that Trevino “treated the victim with particular cruelty, in that he concealed her body in an attempt to evade detection by police,” which “increased the anguish” for Steger’s family. The second aggravating factor states that Trevino “failed to render aid” to his wife.

If convicted of intentional second-degree murder, given the jury finds aggravating factors, Trevino could be sentenced to a maximum of 40 years in prison. If found guilty of unintentional second-degree murder, assuming the jury finds aggravating factors, the court could impose a sentence of up to 25 years.

Johanna Holub can be reached at jholub@lillienews.com or 651-748-7822.

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