Fla. man executed in boy's rape, murder

Published On: Feb 12 2014 08:37:23 PM EST
Updated On: Feb 12 2014 08:50:52 PM EST
STARKE, Fla. -

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, though prison officials said he had submitted something 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.

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 house - 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.

Chavez's most recent state and federal court appeals have 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, and the U.S. Supreme Court followed suit hours later. The appeals prompted a more than two-hour delay in Chavez's execution.

Don Ryce, Jimmy'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 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. It also 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.

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 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.

Chavez's only visitor Wednesday was his spiritual adviser, prison officials said.

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