MIAMI (CBS4) – On September 28, the State of Florida executed Manuel Valle. Valle offered no last words. No final plea. As a lethal cocktail of drugs were pumped into his veins, he just closed his eyes and died – 33 years after killing Coral Gables police officer Luis Pena.
Days later a letter arrived on the desk of Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski.
“Dear Archbishop Wenski,” the note began, “I sincerely hope this letter finds you enjoying the very best of health, as well as God’s good graces.”
On the eve of his execution, Manuel Valle sat in his 6 foot by 9 foot cell and penned a few final thoughts to the head of the Catholic Church in South Florida.
“I am well, at peace, and prepared for whatever God’s will has in store for me within the next week,” Valle continued. “The love and support of my family, as well as that of many friends and kind individuals whom I have never had the pleasure to meet have been a true blessing.
“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support and thoughtfulness throughout this difficult ordeal,” he continued. “And I would like to thank you on behalf of my family as well. If we had many more caring and compassionate individuals such as yourself in this world we would all be much better off. “
Wenski said he was stunned to receive the note, adding that it moved his secretary to tears when she first opened it. An aide to the Archbishop described the note as “Dead Man Talking.”
“The letter was touching to receive from a dead man,” Wenski told CBS4’s Jim DeFede. “I think the letter humanizes Manuel Valle. The man that was executed on death row by the State of Florida was just not a number; he was a human being – a human being that showed himself capable of some spiritual growth.”
Wenski stressed that the humanity the 61-year-old Valle showed near the end of his life didn’t negate the “the horror of the crime he committed.” But Wenski said the letter did show Valle was someone who was not a threat to society and did not have to be put to death.
“I don’t think anything was served by killing him,” Wenski said.
Valle was the first person executed since Wenski became Archbishop fifteen months ago. Upholding the Catholic Church’s long standing opposition to capital punishment, Wenski had spoken out against Valle’s execution. He wrote articles for The Miami Herald and other newspapers. And he pleaded with the governor to commute Valle’s sentence to life.
The letter to Wenski makes clear that even Valle realized the efforts to save his life were likely to fall short.
“And although your thoughtfulness and attempts to save my life may end up falling short of their intended purpose,” Valle wrote, “they should encourage many others to take notice and hopefully become more involved in the future. If that occurs, I will feel that my death will not be in vain. Either way I remain eternally grateful to you.”
Valle also wrote at length about his hope and desire to see his loved ones and family in the future.
“Inner peace resides within my heart and soul,” he wrote. “And I am more than prepared for the afterlife. To see my loved ones who have passed before me. And then await the arrival of those I must leave behind at this time; for there is no doubt in my mind that we will eventually be reunited again.”
Although Valle wrote about the pain and suffering of his family, he made no mention of the family of the man he killed – a fact that did not escape Officer’s Pena’s relatives when they were shown the Valle letter.
“What’s not in here is what jumps up at me and kind of bothers me,” said Jeff Frau, the brother of Luis Pena. “And what’s not in here is expressing condolences to the family, expressing that he is sorry in some way shape or form as to what he did.”
Frau said Valle has never expressed remorse to the family.
“He’s never reached out to our family, never,” he said. “It would have probably helped us a little bit [if he had written to the family] to see that there is some remorse and that he does acknowledge that he did something wrong.”
Frau said he understood why Archbishop Wenski spoke out on behalf of Valle. But in the past, he said, the church seemed more interested in helping the killer than helping the family of the man who died.
“We understand the Catholic Church opposes the death penalty – we understand that,” Frau said. “But what we were upset about is they came to his aid, but they never came to the family’s aid.”
A dozen members of Pena’s family travelled to Starke to witness the execution.
“It brought us some sense of closure,” Frau said. “We are never going to get over what happened. Our lives have never been the same again. My brother had four children who grew up without a father.”
Frau, a retired Miami Dade police detective, maintains Valle was a cold-blooded killer who walked up to Pena’s patrol car and shot him multiple times. Valle also shot Pena’s partner, who survived the attack, and also tried to run down and kill a Sweetwater police officer.
“If he had not killed my brother that day eventually he would have killed somebody,” Frau said, adding Valle deserved to die.
“I was born Catholic. I was raised Catholic. And I do believe in the Catholic faith,” Frau explained. “But I don’t believe in everything the Catholic Church preaches and this is one of those things.”
Unfortunately, Wenski says, Catholics don’t get to pick and chose the tenets to follow or ignore.
“This is not about trying to take a vote about what positions are the most popular,” Wenski said. “I think it is a question of what is the right thing to do.”
Valle’s letter to Wenski repeatedly talks about Valle’s desire to be reunited with his family in the afterlife.
Asked if Manuel Valle is going to heaven, Wenski offered this response: “The mercy of God is such that if Manuel Valle made his peace with God – and by this letter it seems that he had – he can have a chance at heaven as we all hope to have.”