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Justice For Jimmy: A Look Back At The Chavez Trial

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Execution Of Juan Carlos Chavez

MIAMI (CBSMiami) — “It’s been a long, long time coming,” said the father of Jimmy Ryce, upon learning that Wednesday, February 12th is the day the man who kidnapped, raped, murdered and dismembered his 9-year-old son, will be put to death.

It was September 11, 1995 when Jimmy Ryce disappeared without a trace when he got off his school bus near his home in The Redland.

Juan Carlos Chavez, 46, was convicted of the heinous crime three years later.

It was a trial that captivated South Florida and the rest of the nation.

GALLERY: JIMMY RYCE’S LIFE IN PICTURES

Chavez was charged with the crime three months after Jimmy vanished. Chavez confessed but years would pass before he came to trial. The delay tormented Jimmy’s parents.

“There is no constitutional right to delay a trial until the victim’s families die of old age,” said Jimmy’s father Don Ryce in May of 1998.

Chavez did eventually go before a jury in Orlando. The trial was moved there because of intense media scrutiny. The Ryce family came to the trial every day, including Jimmy’s sister Martha.

“And I’m here to represent my family, and Jimmy, because he can’t be here,” said Martha in September of 1998.

Lead prosecutor Catherine Vogel told of Chavez confessing to snatching Jimmy Ryce from the side of the road, raping and shooting him in a remote trailer, and then using a wicked looking bush hook to dismember the boy’s body.

“He took the tool, he chopped the body into about four different pieces,” said Vogel during the 1998 trial.

Chavez sealed the remains with concrete in plastic planters.

For then prosecutor Vogel, now Monroe County’s State Attorney, they are images she will never forget.

“We had to excavate those planters, we had to dig through the concrete to find poor little Jimmy Ryce’s body that had been dismembered,” said Vogel.

Ranch owner Susan Scheinhaus testified how she found Jimmy’s book bag and homework in a travel camper that Chavez lived in which was located on her property where he worked as a farm hand.  But the defense dropped a bombshell.

“The detectives were telling me what I should and should not write,” said Chavez through a translator at the trial.

Chavez recanted his confession and claimed his employer’s son killed Jimmy.

The Ryce’s watched outraged at the defense ploy.

“Their dream is to exchange high fives over Jimmy’s grave, while they set their client loose to rape and murder another child,” said an angry Don Ryce during the trial.

But former homicide detective Felix Jimenez, who is now with the Inspector General’s office, took Chavez’s confession. He said Chavez first told a series of lies including a tale of accidentally running over Jimmy and putting his body in a canal that divers searched for hours before Chavez finally came clean.

“He admitted in detail to everything that he did,” said Jimenez. “His confession was so detailed, that only the killer would know.”

For instance, police didn’t know until Chavez told them that Jimmy was killed in the filthy, falling down trailer.

“When we went there and we looked, and we found Jimmy Ryce’s blood exactly where he said he shot him, then we knew we had gotten to the truth,” said Vogel.

A gun found in Chavez’s camper was an exact ballistics match for the bullet that killed Jimmy.

The jury convicted Chavez on all counts in less than an hour.

“Had he gotten away with it, he would have killed again and again and again,” said Michael Band, the man who prosecuted Chavez. Band is now a private defense attorney.

On November 23, 1998, Chavez was sentenced to death.

Judge Marc Schumacher sentenced Chavez to die in old sparky, the electric chair.  But the appeals dragged on for years.

At a hearing in January 2007, his mother said, “You know, it’s been over eleven years since Jimmy was killed, and he was only nine years old.  So he’s been dead longer than he lived.” Jimmy would have been 21 years old at that hearing.

Governor Rick Scott finally signed the death warrant for Chavez in January.

Claudine Ryce didn’t live to see it. She died from coronary disease, a broken heart, in 2009.

Jimmy’s sister Martha took her own life last year at the age of 35.

When Don Ryce learned of the Chavez’s death warrant last month, he wept. His son Ted is his only remaining family.

“We’ve suffered a terrible loss,” said an emotional Don Ryce. “A loss you don’t wish on anyone.”

Monday, February 10th, Chavez was denied a stay of execution by the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. It’s one of the final appeals left for Juan Carlos Chavez before his scheduled execution on Wednesday evening.

CBS4’s Gary Nelson and Eliott Rodriguez have covered the story since the beginning and are at the Florida State Prison in Starke where Chavez will be put to death.

CBS4’s Nelson will be in the witness room when Chavez pays the ultimate penalty for his crime. Nelson will talk about what he sees inside the chamber during the Wednesday 11 p.m. newscast on CBS4 News.

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