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Florida Executes Man in 1995 Rape, Murder of Boy

STARKE, Fla. -- Juan Carlos Chavez, who raped and murdered 9-year-old Jimmy Ryce in an infamous 1995 murder in the Redland, said nothing as he went to his death on a chilly, damp Wednesday night in North Florida.

Chavez's last statement came in a rambling handwritten note penned hours before his execution. In it, he made no apologies to the family he tore apart. Nor did he claim any innocence.

Instead, the brutal child-killer proclaimed his religious faith and wished Christ's love on those who "in their pain desire my death."

"No word or man will rob me of my peace today," Chavez wrote.

For Don Ryce, who has spent the past 18 years crusading for tougher laws against sex predators, the execution of his son's killer delivered a very different message. After stoically watching Chavez die from a lethal injection, Ryce warned pedophiles to think twice about killing their victims.

"People will not forget, they will not forgive," Ryce said. "We will hunt you down and we will put you to death."

Ryce's older son, Ted Ryce, said he was reluctant to attend but came as a "symbol of strength." Jimmy's mother and sister both died in the past few years.

"To show you that in spite of all the terrible tragedies we've been through, my father and I still stand strong -- and strength is something we are sorely lacking in our country today," Ted Ryce said.

Jimmy disappeared from a school bus stop Sept. 11, 1995, sparking a massive three-month manhunt across South Florida. Chavez, after a marathon police interrogation, confessed to raping him and shooting the boy in the back as he tried to escape. The ghastly details of the crime -- Jimmy's dismembered remains were found in planters sealed with concrete -- shook the community's sense of security and spurred legislation allowing the state to indefinitely detain sexual predators.

The execution came after a tense delay of two hours as the U.S. Supreme Court considered, but ultimately denied, a last-minute request for a stay.

In the death chamber at 8:02 p.m., a curtain rose that allowed witnesses seated in a brightly lit white room to look through a one-way window at Chavez lying on a gurney. A white sheet covered his body, except for his face. Leather straps cinched Chavez's wrists and ankles, and IVs for the lethal injection were inserted into his arms.

A prison official supervising the execution asked Chavez if he wanted to make a last statement. Chavez declined and the first of three drugs was administered.

Within a few minutes, a sedative took effect. Chavez yawned and closed his eyes. At one point, the corrections official said his name, "Mr. Chavez," three times to make sure he was asleep. The official then leaned over Chavez and shut his eyelids.

As the lethal components in the injection kicked in, Chavez moved his feet slightly. His skin, already pale from years in prison, turned more ashen. His body lay still for several minutes. A doctor examined Chavez's eyes, nose and mouth. A stethoscope detected no heartbeat. At 8:17 p.m., the corrections official declared Chavez's death.

Throughout the process, none of the 19 witnesses showed any emotion. As he walked from the room with the aid of a cane, however, there was clear pain in Don Ryce's eyes.

Other witnesses included Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Penny Brill, and former prosecutor Michael Band, both of whom took Chavez to trial. Former Miami-Dade homicide sergeant Felix Jimenez was also on hand, as was one juror who helped convict Chavez in the 1998 trial

Pat Diaz, the retired Miami-Dade police detective who led the investigation into Jimmy's murder but did not attend the execution, still felt a sense of closure.

"Justice has been served for an evil man," he said.

Earlier in the day, Chavez's only visitor was a "spiritual adviser." His demeanor during the day was calm, a Florida corrections spokeswoman told reporters. His last meal included a ribeye steak, French fries, a fruit cup and strawberry ice cream, washed down with mango juice.

The notoriety of the case drew an unusually large media contingent. About two dozen news reporters, photographers and TV satellite trucks gathered under drizzling gray skies in a sprawling field across from the Florida State Prison.

Chavez, who spent nearly 16 years on Death Row, was the 12th inmate put to death in Florida since the start of 2012.

The day started off with the Florida Supreme Court rejecting a last-minute bid to delay the scheduled execution.

Chavez's lawyer, Robert Norgard, tried to persuade the Florida Supreme Court to reconsider Chavez's argument that the sedative used as part of the cocktail of lethal drugs was ineffective as a pain-relieving anesthetic and therefore violated his constitutional protection against "cruel and unusual punishment."

His lawyer filed an affidavit by a University of Miami anesthesiologist, David Lubarsky, to bolster his client's latest claim Tuesday. Norgard based that claim on the state high court's decision to consider the same expert's evidence in another Death Row inmate's petition.

But the Florida Supreme Court concluded that Chavez should have presented this evidence when he had the opportunity before the justices rejected his previous bid for a stay Jan. 31. And late Wednesday, the nation's high court rejected the same argument.

Copyright 2014 - The Miami Herald

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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