STARKE, Fla. - A man was executed in Florida for raping and killing a 9-year-old boy 18 years ago, a death that spurred the victim's parents to press nationwide for stronger sexual predator confinement laws.Juan Carlos Chavez, 46, was pronounced dead at 8:17 p.m. Wednesday after a lethal injection at Florida State Prison, authorities said.
Chavez abducted Jimmy Ryce at gunpoint after the boy got off a school bus on Sept. 11, 1995, in rural southwestern Miami-Dade County. Trial testimony showed Chavez raped the boy and then shot him when he tried to escape, dismembering his body and putting the parts in concrete-covered planters.
Despite an intensive search by police and volunteers, regular appeals for help through the media and distribution of fliers about Jimmy, it wasn't until three months later that Chavez's landlady discovered the boy's book bag and the murder weapon — a revolver Chavez had stolen from her house — in the trailer where Chavez lived. Chavez later confessed to police and led them to Jimmy's remains.
He was found guilty of murder, sexual battery and kidnapping.
Chavez made no final statement in the death chamber, but did submit a statement laced with religious references in writing. He moved his feet frequently after the injection began at 8:02 p.m. but two minutes later stopped moving.
"I doubt that there is anything I can say that would satisfy everybody, even less those who see in me nothing more (than) someone deserving of punishment," he wrote.
He wrote that he wished for "unfailing love be upon us, upon me, upon those who today take the life out of this body, as well as those who in their blindness or in their pain desire my death. God bless us all."
The execution was witnessed by Jimmy's father, 70-year-old Don Ryce, and his son Ted.
They told reporters outside the prison that the execution closes a long, painful chapter and hopefully sends a powerful message to other would-be child abductors.
"Don't kill the child. Because if you do, people will not forget, they will not forgive. We will hunt you down and we will put you to death," Don Ryce said.Chavez's most recent round of state and federal court appeals focused on claims that Florida's lethal injection procedure is unconstitutional, that he didn't get due process during clemency hearings and that he should have an execution stay to pursue additional appeals in the federal courts.
The Florida Supreme Court, however, refused Wednesday morning to stay the execution to allow Chavez time to pursue those challenges. The execution, originally scheduled for 6 p.m., was delayed while Chavez's last-chance appeal for a stay of execution went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court denied it.
Jimmy Ryce's death led to changes in the legal system, and the way police respond to missing child cases.
Don Ryce said recently that he and his wife became determined to turn their son's horrific slaying into something positive, in part because they felt they owed something to all the people who tried to help find him. They also refused to wallow in misery.
"You've got to do something or you do nothing. That was just not the way we wanted to live the rest of our lives," he said.
The Ryces created the Jimmy Ryce Center for Victims of Predatory Abduction, a nonprofit organization based in Vero Beach that works to increase public awareness and education about sexual predators, provides counseling for parents of victims and helps train law enforcement agencies in ways to respond to missing children cases.
The organization has also provided, free of charge, more than 400 bloodhounds to police departments around the country and abroad. Ryce said if police searching for Jimmy had bloodhounds they might have found him in time.
Another accomplishment was 1998 passage in Florida of the Jimmy Ryce Act, versions of which have also been adopted in other states. Under the law, sexual predators found to be still highly dangerous can be detained through civil commitment even after they have served their prison sentences. Such people must prove they have been rehabilitated before they can be released. Chavez had no criminal record, so the law would not have affected him.