The execution of Juan Carlos Chavez, convicted of the 1995 murder of 9-year-old Samuel James “Jimmy” Ryce, will take place at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Florida State Prison in Starke, Fla., by lethal injection.
Chavez, 46, was found guilty in November 1998 of first-degree murder, sexual battery on a person less than 12 years old and armed kidnapping, according to his death warrant.
Chavez confessed to kidnapping Jimmy at gunpoint after the boy was let off at his school bus stop in rural south Miami-Dade County.
He then raped and shot the boy when he tried to escape. The body was found dismembered in cement concealed by plastic planters on a nearby horse farm, according to a Florida Supreme Court appeals document.
“There will be a feeling that a chapter is finally over that needed to be closed,” said Don Ryce, Jimmy’s father, in a January press conference. “I’ve waited for almost two decades for that phone call. It’s been a long, long time coming.”
Gov. Rick Scott signed Chavez’s death warrant on Jan. 2, and a request for a stay to temporarily suspend the execution was denied last month.
Chavez challenged the constitutionality of Florida’s lethal injection law and claimed he did not receive due process during clemency proceedings, according to a Jan. 31 Florida Supreme Court appeals document. The court denied these two claims.
Change in Lethal Injection Drugs
In September, following a shortage of the anesthetic barbiturate pentobarbital, the Florida Department of Corrections switched to midazolam hydrochloride, the first of three drugs to be administered. Vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride are injected next, completing the method of lethal injection.
This new cocktail of drugs was used for the October execution of William Happ, who was on death row for the rape and murder of Angela Crowley in 1986, in Florida.
Midazolam was used during the Ohio execution of Dennis McGuire last month, which caused controversy due to McGuire appearing to gasp multiple times in the prolonged execution. Chavez’s lawyers, Robert and Andrea Norgard, declined to comment to reporters.
The Florida News Service reported that the Florida Supreme Court ordered a review of the new drug for the scheduled Feb. 26 execution of Paul Augustus Howell. The evidentiary hearing will examine if the substitution of midazolam is considered cruel and unusual punishment.
Howell’s lawyers argue that the process of administering the drugs is problematic because the first, midazolam, “will not anesthetize him and would leave him ‘unable to communicate his agony’ when the other drugs are administered,” according to the News Service.
Jimmy Ryce Act
Since his son’s death, Ryce has been devoted to protecting Florida’s children from child predators through legislation.
The Ryces worked with former Florida state Rep. Alex Villalobos and former Florida state Sen. Ron Klein, to sponsor the Jimmy Ryce Act, which passed in 1998 and went into effect in 1999.
Though Chavez was not a previously convicted child predator, the act seeks to protect children from sexual predators who are most likely to commit similar crimes after their criminal sentencing is finished. These predators are evaluated and potentially civilly committed to a treatment facility in Arcadia, Fla.
“What we found in looking through the history of sexually violent criminals being released was that there was a number of them continuing to commit these acts,” said Ron Klein, senate sponsor of the Jimmy Ryce Act. “The same things that caused them to commit these acts were not being cured.”
Klein said the passing of the Jimmy Ryce Act has helped to bring awareness about giving longer prison sentences to child predators.
“The general thinking of the time was that a lot of people were getting out at ages when they were still very much a threat,” Klein said.
While the act was well intended in 1998, the Miami Herald conducted an investigation of the Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia and in 2006 published its findings of several facility oversights. In addition to those with mental illnesses not receiving proper care, the investigation revealed overcrowding, a short-staffed facility, fights and home brewing of alcohol.
Since these discoveries pointed out by the Herald and in 2013 by the Sun Sentinel, the healthy families subcommittee of the Florida House of Representatives is currently revisiting the Jimmy Ryce Act.
“Seen from the implementations of the Jimmy Ryce Act, we know that we have taken people who are extremely dangerous off of the streets,” said Rep. Keith Perry, vice chair of the Healthy Families Subcommittee.
“We want to balance someone’s civil rights and make sure that we also protect the public,” Perry said. “It’s been working, but we need to make sure that the system works a little better.”
Perry said it’s hard to put a number on the lives saved by the Jimmy Ryce Act, but that there are people who serve a prison sentence, get released and almost immediately return to harmful sexual acts.
Perry said the committee is making sure prison sentences aren’t extended, but that particularly dangerous individuals are receiving the mental health guidance long term.
The committee consulted with law enforcement officials, state attorneys, licensed psychologists and mental health experts to get a clear idea of changes for the Jimmy Ryce Act.
In a couple of weeks, the language of the bill should be ready, Perry said.
“It’s a very small, but very dangerous group of individuals in our community, without long-term care they are a threat to the community,” Perry said.