Cass County family of Katie Rios prepares for resentencing of cousin who killed her

Katie Rios
Katie Rios courtesy photo

Not a moment passes in Monica Rios’ life that she doesn’t think about her daughter who was killed by a cousin living in their family’s home south of Harrisonville.

All the dreams Rios had for her daughter were stolen on Jan. 7, 2010, when 14-year-old Katie Rios suffered multiple stab wounds inflicted by Reyes E. Olivas, then 16, while the two were home from school on a snow day.

“We gave him love, met his needs,” Rios said. “For him to do something like that, it was heartbreaking.”

In 2012, Olivas was sentenced by a Cass County judge to spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole after being convicted of first-degree murder and armed criminal action.

Less than two months later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that minors can’t be sent to prison without the possibility of parole or probation. The justices held that sentencing children and teens to die in prison constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

As a result, Olivas will be returning to Cass County to appear in front of a judge Dec. 1 to discuss how he will be resentenced.

He could be given at least two options — let a jury sentence him, or to let a judge decide — what his fate will be.

If he chooses to let a jury decide, the Rios family might have to sit through another trial as evidence from the murder is reintroduced, and rehashed, for resentencing purposes.

For Rios, it will be another emotional hurdle in the year that Katie would have graduated from Harrisonville High School and gone to college.

“We just want justice,” Rios said. “He’s not someone who deserves to be out.”

During the murder investigation, Olivas told Cass County detectives that he and Katie were arguing, and that he went to the kitchen to grab a butcher knife that he would use to kill her.

Katie tried to escape into a bedroom, but Olivas caught up with her.

A medical examiner would later determine she had been stabbed about 20 times.

Olivas, who had moved in with the Rios family only a few weeks before the murder, was certified to stand trial as an adult despite his age.

Rios was warned early on that an appeal could someday challenge Olivas’ sentence.

Recently, Olivas did appeal, on two points.

In May, the Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals denied Olivas’ claim that evidence did not prove the deliberation necessary to convict him of first-degree murder.

But the court agreed he should be resentenced in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, and similar decisions recently made in the Missouri Supreme Court.

Whether he’s resentenced by a judge or a jury, Olivas would receive, at minimum, the punishment established for second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of 10 years to life in prison.

Whatever the outcome, however, Olivas’ initial criminal conviction would stand.

“It’s stressful to go do this again but I’ll be there representing my daughter,” Rios said. “I still hope he gets many, many, many years in (prison) because I don’t think he is someone we want in society.”

With only shattered dreams and crushed aspirations, Rios fights daily to be strong.

“Her memory lives inside of us,” Rios said.

While attention will be drawn back into the courtroom for Katie’s family and loved ones, individuals in the Harrisonville school community are determined to keep Katie at the forefront of their collective memory — rather than the circumstances of her death.

“It amazes me how people are still holding (Katie) strong in their memory,” Rios said. “That is something that really honors me. It makes me proud knowing that something good came out of everything.”

Katie was an eighth grader at Harrisonville Middle School when she was killed.

HMS Principal Chris Grantham remembers Katie’s happy personality, and even nicknamed her “smiley.”

“She would say ‘good morning’ to me every morning,” Grantham said. “She always had a smile.”

Grantham recalls that Katie was also loyal to her friends. He said she cared deeply for her peers — and would offer to help with homework or support them without expectation of return.

“She was very intelligent, smart, creative kid who loved life,” Grantham said. “We didn’t want her memory to fade. We miss her.”

Grantham created an annual $1,000 memorial scholarship in Katie’s honor, dubbed the “Smiley Award.” The school raises money for the award.

Each year, an eighth-grader is chosen as the recipient, and upon graduation from high school, is given the scholarship.

Grantham said the first scholarship recipient will graduate this spring.

“As human beings, we always need to find a way to help others,” Rios said. “Taking care of people was Katie’s gift.”

The school district has also rallied to create the Katie Rios Instrument Closet in the last couple years.

The project, an initiative of Bright Futures Harrisonville, collects used musical instruments in good condition, which in turn are given to band students who otherwise could not afford to purchase their own.

It’s another avenue to share Katie’s compassion and love of music.

“I thought it was a great idea,” Rios said. “It give kids, who otherwise don’t have the opportunity because they’re not able to afford them, the (chance) to play instruments.”

Band was one of Katie’s favorite things at school, her mother said. She had played the clarinet since the sixth grade.

“She wanted to pursue something music-related,” Rios said. “That was her dream.”

This spring, members of Harrisonville’s 2014 senior class commemorated Katie by planting a magnolia tree outside their middle school before graduation in May. Graduates also honored their classmate during commencement.

“You try to teach as much as you learn, but I learned from her to just be positive every day and love life,” Grantham said. “That’s what I remember about her.”