Cuban immigrant executed for 1995 murder of Florida boy

By Bill Cotterell

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) – A Cuban immigrant was executed by lethal injection on Wednesday for the 1995 kidnapping, rape and murder of a 9-year-old south Florida boy, a spokesman for the governor said.

Juan Carlos Chavez, who confessed to the murder of Jimmy Ryce, was executed at the Florida State Prison at Starke at 8:17 p.m., said Jackie Schutz, a press aide for Governor Rick Scott.

A Florida law passed in the wake of the killing cleared the way for imprisoned sexual offenders to be held after their release if found likely to repeat their crimes. The law has been replicated across the United States.

The execution, attended by Ryce’s father, was briefly delayed by a last-minute appeal by Chavez’s lawyers which the U.S. Supreme Court denied.

The Department of Corrections said Chavez had a last meal of steak, French fries, strawberry ice cream, mixed fruit and mango juice in the afternoon. He had no visitors, the DOC said.

In a final written statement released by the state after his death, Chavez expressed no remorse, saying that “none of us can pass judgment on another (man’s) sins.”

Chavez wrote, “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.”

Chavez, who worked as a farmhand and had no criminal history, kidnapped the boy at gunpoint as he got off a school bus in Redland, an agricultural area of south Miami-Dade County.

He took Ryce to his trailer and raped him. When the boy tried to escape, Chavez shot him in the back, dismembered him and hid his body in concrete-filled plastic pots.

The boy’s disappearance shook south Florida and garnered national attention. Hundreds of volunteers signed up for the search and his parents held a stream of press conferences.

Three months after disappearing, Jimmy’s remains were found near Chavez’s trailer after his landlord found the boy’s school bag.

Chavez arrived in south Florida on a raft from Cuba with two others in 1991 and was working as a farmhand at the time of the murder. Little is known about his background or family, who remained in Cuba.

The Florida Supreme Court upheld Chavez’s 1998 conviction and death sentence. Subsequent appeals were denied, though Chavez last week filed a final appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

After Jimmy’s death Don Ryce and his mother Claudine, who died in 2009, became advocates for abducted and missing children. They opened a center for abduction victims in south Florida and have provided hundreds of Bloodhounds to law enforcement nationwide to help find missing children.

“They were camping out at my office just to make sure that the bill passed and at the same time going through this grief,” Villalobos said.

The Ryces were also on hand as President Bill Clinton in 1996 signed an order instructing federal agencies to post missing-children posters in federal buildings.

Don Ryce, a retired lawyer now living near central Florida, told the Miami Herald recently that the loss of his son broke the heart of his wife and his daughter.

“This is the kind of loss that never gets right, that you never completely recover from,” Ryce told the paper.

His wife died in 2009 and his daughter, Jimmy’s half-sister, Martha, committed suicide last year.

“In both cases, Jimmy’s memory, I can tell you, was very much weighing on them at the time of their death,” Ryce said.

“So forgive me if I don’t shed many tears for Juan Carlos Chavez.”

(Writing and reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Editing by David Adams, Sofina Mirza-Reid, Eric Walsh and Richard Chang)

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