STARKE — A man was executed Wednesday night 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 and better handling of child abduction cases.
Juan Carlos Chavez, 46, was pronounced dead at 8:17 p.m. Wednesday after a lethal injection at Florida State Prison, according to Gov. Rick Scott’s office.
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.
Chavez abducted Jimmy Ryce at gunpoint after the boy got off a school bus on Sept. 11, 1995, in rural Miami-Dade County. Testimony showed Chavez raped the boy, shot him when he tried to escape, then dismembered his body and hid the parts in concrete-covered planters.
Ryce’s parents turned the tragedy’s pain into a push for stronger U.S. laws regarding confinement of sexual predators and improved police procedures in missing child cases. Their foundation provided hundreds of free canines to law enforcement agencies to aid in searches for children.
The boy’s father, 70-year-old Don Ryce, witnessed the execution along with his son Ted, 37. 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,” Ryce said.
Despite an intensive search in 1995 by police and volunteers, regular appeals for help through the media and distribution of flyers 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 hous e - in the trailer where Chavez lived. Chavez later confessed to police and led them to Jimmy’s remains.
He was tried and found guilty of murder, sexual battery and kidnapping.
In his written statement, Chavez said he had found forgiveness in religion and was not afraid of death. He said 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.”
Chavez’s latest 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 further appeals.
The Florida Supreme Court, however, refused Wednesday morning to stay the execution to allow Chavez time to pursue those challenges, and the U.S. Supreme Court followed suit hours later. The appeals prompted a more than two-h our delay in Chavez’s execution.
The victim’s father said recently that he and his wife had become determined to turn their son’s horrific slaying into something positive, in part because they felt they owed something to all who tried to help find him. They also refused to despair.
“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 promotes public awareness and education about sexual predators. It also counsels parents of victims and helps train law enforcement agencies in responding to missing children cases.
The organization also has provided, free of charge, more than 400 bloodhounds to police departments nationwide and abroad. Ryce said if police searching for Jimmy had bloodhounds they might have found him in time.
The Ryces also helped persuade then-President Bill Clinton to sign an executive order allowing missing-child flyers to be posted in federal buildings, which they had been prevented from doing for their own son.
Another accomplishment was 1998 passage in Florida of the Jimmy Ryce Act, versions of which have 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.
Chavez’s only visitor Wednesday was his spiritual adviser, prison officials said.