A man was executed Wednesday night in Florida for the rape and murder of a 9-year-old boy in Miami-Dade County in 1995.
Juan Carlos Chavez, 46, was pronounced dead at 8:17 p.m. after a lethal injection at Florida State Prison in Starke, according to Gov. Rick Scott's office.
He was sentenced to death in 1998 in the gruesome murder of Jimmy Ryce.
“Nineteen years ago, Juan Carlos Chavez was faced with a choice. He had kidnapped my son, Jimmy," Don Ryce told reporters outside the prison following the execution. "He had sexually assaulted him, and now it was time to decide would he let him live, or would he take his life? We know what he decided to do and the choice he made, and as a result of that choice he died today.”
Ryce, 70, witnessed the execution along with his son Ted, 37.
Jimmy's parents, Don and Claudine Ryce, 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.
Chavez made no final statement in the death chamber, but did submit a handwritten statement laced with religious references. He moved his feet frequently after the injection began at 8:02 p.m. but two minutes later stopped moving.
The U.S. Supreme Court denied Chavez's last-minute appeals Wednesday.
The court issued brief orders Wednesday night rejecting the appeals, which focused on a challenge to Florida's method of lethal injection. The execution had been delayed from the original 6 p.m. time because of the appeals.
Chavez requested rib eye steak, French fries, strawberry ice cream, Goya mango juice, hot sauce and a mix of bananas, mangos and papayas as his last meal, said Jessica Cary, director of communications for the Florida Department of Corrections. Cary said Chavez received no visitors prior to the execution aside from his spiritual adviser and that Chavez's demeanor was calm.
Chavez kidnapped Jimmy one block from his home in Redland on Sept. 11, 1995, ordering him at gunpoint into his truck. He drove him to his trailer, where he sexually battered him and held him captive for more than three and a half hours before he shot and killed the boy when he tried to escape.
Two days after the murder, Chavez dismembered the boy's body, filled three planters with his remains and sealed the planters with concrete. Jimmy's remains were found three months later near the home of Chavez, who confessed to the killing.
He was was convicted of first-degree murder, sexual battery on a person less than 12 years old and armed kidnapping in 1998.
Jimmy's parents were fixtures on television in the weeks after he disappeared, and for years, the couple worked tirelessly to raise awareness about sexual predators and to pass laws to make children safer. Claudine Ryce died in 2009.
The case horrified the state and led to the passage of the Jimmy Ryce Act, which allows authorities to commit dangerous sexual predators to mental institutions once they have completed their prison terms. The law would not have stopped Chavez, however, as he had no previous record for sex crimes.
"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.
Chavez's most recent round of 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.
Chavez's only visitor Wednesday was his spiritual adviser, prison officials said.
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."
Read his last statement below:
Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Miami held a prayer vigil for Chavez, Jimmy and the Ryce family earlier in the day.
The vigil took place following the 11:45 a.m. daily Mass at Sr. Martha Church at 9301 Biscayne Blvd. in Miami.
"People look at these vigils and say 'oh, in some way you are holding up the criminal,' that's not what we are doing, we are saying that human dignity will be diminished if we participate in this act," said Joan Crown, director of the Respect Life Ministry of the Archdiocese of Miami. "We pray for the repose of the soul of Jimmy Ryce and for the Ryce family whose grief can only be consoled by our merciful Lord."
Crown also said revenge isn't the answer.
"It's a very human thing to want revenge for this horrific crime but revenge is God's alone," she said. "Is this the most effective way to teach other people not to kill, by doing the very thing we are condemning?"
Don Ryce said Wednesday night that suspects who commit a crime against a child in future cases will face the same kind of choice that Chavez faced long ago.
"And when they do, when they’re processing what they think they want to do, I hope that they will remember that it will be burned in their mind four words: Don’t kill the child. Don’t kill the child," Ryce said. "Because if you do, people will not forget, they will not forgive, we will hunt you down, and we will put you to death.”