On Eve of Juan Carlos Chavez's Execution, Former Detective and Prosecutor Remember Jimmy Ryce Tragedy

The case haunted Miami-Dade Police Det. Pat Diaz's career

By Ari Odzer
|  Wednesday, Feb 12, 2014  |  Updated 3:01 AM EDT
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For Pat Diaz, retracing the steps of a tragedy is not easy. On the day before Juan Carlos Chavez is due to be executed, NBC 6’s Ari Odzer spoke with Diaz, the former homicide detective who led the search for a missing boy named Jimmy Ryce in 1995, and Michael Band, the former prosecutor who won a first-degree murder conviction and a death sentence for Chavez.

For Pat Diaz, retracing the steps of a tragedy is not easy. On the day before Juan Carlos Chavez is due to be executed, NBC 6’s Ari Odzer spoke with Diaz, the former homicide detective who led the search for a missing boy named Jimmy Ryce in 1995, and Michael Band, the former prosecutor who won a first-degree murder conviction and a death sentence for Chavez.

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For Pat Diaz, retracing the steps of a tragedy is not easy.

"That's the bus stop," Diaz says, pointing at a street corner in the area near Homestead known as the Redland.

The former Miami-Dade Police homicide detective led the search for a missing boy named Jimmy Ryce back in 1995.

"When you have a missing 9-year-old, you want to believe, you always have the hope that you'll find the child," Diaz said, reminiscing about the case that would haunt his career.

To this day, the street sign at the corner is a memorial to the little boy who never grew up, decorated with flowers and pictures of Jimmy. A man named Juan Carlos Chavez took Jimmy, a case that struck fear into the hearts of parents everywhere. Detective Diaz heard the details when Chavez confessed.

“He tells us he rolls down his window, points the gun at him and says get in the trunk, Jimmy crosses the street and gets in the trunk with him, and basically this is where it happened," Diaz said, standing at the spot at which Chavez abducted the boy. "Jimmy was probably 250 yards from his house, that’s how close he was to his house.”

Volunteers passed out flyers, joined police in searching the area, and it was all too late. Chavez had already abducted, tortured, and killed Jimmy in his trailer.

“It’s the parent’s worst nightmare," said Michael Band, a Miami attorney who, in 1995, was the prosecutor on the case.

Band won the first-degree murder conviction and a death sentence for Chavez, who is scheduled to be executed Wednesday.

But it wasn't easy, Band says. There was tremendous pressure from the community, the trial had to be moved to Orlando to seat an impartial jury, and he had to control his own emotions.

“You don’t remove yourself, you try to be as rational as one can be but you think about things like that, you think, that could’ve been my kid, could’ve been your kid," Band said.

Chavez was on the way to death row, but the pain only got worse for the victim’s father, Don Ryce: Over the years he lost everyone except his son, Ted Ryce. After Jimmy's murder, the stress and depression hung over the Ryce family. A heart attack killed Don Ryce’s wife, Claudine Ryce, in 2009. His daughter committed suicide, still despondent over Jimmy’s death.

“If there was ever anyone in the world who deserved to die it’s the man who did that," Don Ryce said last month, speaking after the governor signed the death warrant for Chavez.

“I think, sadly, the statistics are that predators are not going to be deterred because Juan Carlos Chavez gets executed," Band said.

That doesn't mean Band has second thoughts about asking for the death penalty. He agrees that Chavez got what he deserved. Band says the verdict was professionally satisfying, but there’s a hole in his heart when he thinks of Don Ryce.

“He still goes home without Jimmy," Band said, and the execution won't change that awful reality.

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