MIAMI (CBS4) – More than three decades after the crime, a man who murdered a Coral Gables Police officer is finally scheduled to be executed next month.
And that officer’s daughter, former wife and the officer who survived the shooting are all saying that they are grateful that Governor Rick Scott has signed the death warrant, the first such warrant of his administration.
It all started on April 2nd of 1978 when 41-year-old Coral Gables Officer Louis Pena, an 11-year veteran, stopped a stolen car because of a traffic violation near Lejeune Road and Miracle Mile. He did not know that the man driving that car, 27-year-old Manuel Valle, was on probation and was wanted for the attempted murder of a Sweetwater officer.
Valle got out of his vehicle while Pena checked his license tag. Valle was allowed to go back to his vehicle because he said he needed a cigarette. Instead, he grabbed a gun and shot Pena in the neck.
He also shot twice at former Officer Gary Spell, who was hit by one bullet but whose life was saved by a bullet-proof vest.
The incident was captured on a 911 tape as a mortally wounded Pena called a dispatcher, asking for help. You can hear Pena’s police dog barking frantically because Pena was wounded. On the tape, you can hear Pena saying, “I’ve been shot. I’ve been shot.”
Valle and his accomplice fled but they were captured two days later. Records show that Valle confessed and later claimed in court that he fired his gun by mistake. Valle, who is now 61, had avoided execution after a series of appeals, rehearings and even reversals. The case even went to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Pena’s daughter, Jeneane Skeen of Ft. Myers. Had sent three emails to Governor Rick Scott, asking him when Valle would be executed.
When she heard that the Governor signed the death warrant, she was elated. “That’s the greatest news I’ve ever heard,” she said from her Ft. Myers home. “33 years we’ve been waiting and it’s been a long, long, long haul. We’ve never had a Governor sign the death warrant. Governor Scott is the first one to do it. We thank him very much. Manuel Valle doesn’t deserve to be alive anymore.”
“I think it brings a chapter of closure for the whole family,” she said.
Inez Afanador, who was Pena’s former wife, said, “It’s time. It’s been 33 years. It’s time that they put him away already. I’m happy it has come to this. Valle took him. He murdered him. And for that I don’t like him.”
Officer Gary Spell told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench, “I think his death was a total waste. And I think he (Pena) probably would have released the individual that night because he would not have known what he was wanted for at that time. I’m glad to see the current Governor is carrying on with this case.”
Spell retired eight months ago after 33 years as a police officer. “That’s how many years I’ve waited for the execution,” said Spell. He said he had no plans to witness it. He is guardedly optimistic that there will be no more delays.
Officer Pena’s mother had bought him a bulletproof vest shortly before the shooting and had begged him to wear it. But police say because pena was shot in the neck, such a vest would not have saved his life.