Florida executes Juan Chavez for 1995 murder

US Supreme Court denied last-minute appeals, and Chavez was put to death by lethal injection

Juan Chavez in a Miami courtroom in 2007. Chavez kidnapped, raped and murdered Jimmy Ryce in 1995.
AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File

Juan Chavez, 46, who was convicted of raping and murdering a 9-year-old boy in 1995, was executed by lethal injection Wednesday at Florida State Prison in Starke, after the U.S. Supreme Court denied his last-minute appeals. His time of death was 8:17 p.m. 

The court issued brief orders Wednesday night rejecting the appeals, which focused on a challenge to Florida's method of lethal injection. Chavez is the second person put to death by Florida this year and the 83rd since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

But a 6 p.m. execution time passed while officials awaited a final ruling by the Supreme Court, according to Florida Gov. Rick Scott's office. 

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 that Chavez raped the boy and then shot him when he tried to escape, dismembering his body and putting the parts in concrete-covered planters.

Jimmy's death led to changes in the U.S. legal system on the confinement of sexual predators and the way police respond to missing-child cases.

Despite an intensive search in 1995 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. He later confessed to police and led them to Jimmy's remains.

He was found guilty of murder, sexual battery and kidnapping.

Chavez's last 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. As the planned execution time drew near, Chavez still had an appeal pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Don Ryce, Jimmy's father, 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,” he said. “That was just not the way we wanted to live the rest of our lives."

The Ryces created the Jimmy Ryce Center for Victims of Predatory Abduction, a nonprofit organization based in Vero Beach, Fla., 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 Ryces also helped persuade then-President Bill Clinton to sign an executive order allowing missing-child fliers to be posted in federal buildings, which they had been prevented from doing for their own son.

Another accomplishment was the 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. He had a last meal of steak, french fries, a fruit cup and ice cream, prison officials said.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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