Day: February 10, 2014

A father waits for justice in the notorious South Florida murder of young Jimmy Ryce – Juan Carlos Chavez


february 8, 2014

The years have not healed Don Ryce’s pain, only prolonged it.

It was 1995 when his son, a gap-toothed 9-year-old named Jimmy, was snatched from a Redland school bus stop, raped and killed.

As Ryce counts the last few days until Wednesday’s scheduled execution of his son’s murderer, his anger burns as hot as it did more than 18 years ago. And his sorrow has only been compounded by two more deaths he traces back to that first, monstrous act of a pedophile named Juan Carlos Chavez: the heart attack that killed his wife, Claudine, in 2009 — a “broken heart,” he says — and the suicide last year of his daughter, Jimmy’s half-sister, Martha.

“In both cases, Jimmy’s memory, I can tell you, was very much weighing on them at the time of their death,” Ryce said, talking about the tragedy during a 90-minute interview in his Vero Beach home. “So forgive me if I don’t shed many tears for Juan Carlos Chavez.”

The losses of his wife and daughter blindsided him, just as Jimmy’s did all those years ago when it seemed as though everyone in South Florida showed up to help with the three-month search for a boy grabbed yards from his doorstep. The abduction and horrifying details that emerged later — Chavez had raped the boy, shot him when he tried to escape, dismembered the boy’s body but kept his book bag, all at a trailer less than a mile from the Ryces’ home — marked the sad beginning of a new and disquieting vigilance that reached far beyond South Florida. Parents clutched their children closer. Authorities scrambled to create better, faster ways to hunt for missing children.

And always the Ryce family was there, front and center, holding each other up, in a national crusade to protect children from predators. Eventually, their son’s legacy would include the Jimmy Ryce Center for Victims of Predatory Abduction; the Jimmy Ryce Law Enforcement Training Center; a program to raise money to give bloodhounds to police departments and the Jimmy Ryce Act, a state law legislators are pushing to toughen, designed to keep sexual predators in custody even after their sentences end if they are still deemed dangerous.

Through it all, Chavez — who sowed the seed of so much pain — has remained alive on Death Row, courtesy of Florida taxpayers. If Chavez is executed Wednesday as scheduled under the death warrant signed by Gov. Rick Scott, Ryce will be there to watch the man he characterized as “a reptilian mutant” draw his last breath.

It’s a promise he and Claudine, both lawyers, made to each other after Chavez was sentenced to death. Don Ryce was the one with health problems at the time, hypertension he developed during the trial, a hellish three weeks of graphic testimony held in Orlando after an impartial jury couldn’t be seated in Miami-Dade County. To make their case, prosecutors used Chavez’s confession in which he told police he pointed a gun at Jimmy and asked him: “Do you want to die?”

One juror burst into loud sobs after a detective displayed three plastic pots that had held Jimmy’s remains. Three others broke down after rendering the guilty verdict.

Afterward, the Ryces pledged to each other that they would witness the execution and “if one of us wasn’t going to be there, the other would, for both,” Ryce said.

If the execution is delayed — legal appeals have been filed, largely based on questions about the mix of chemicals used to render killers unconscious before the lethal injection — Ryce said it will be one more instance in which the predator is given more consideration than the victim or victim’s family.

The prospect infuriates him, he said. “Most of us would only wish we could have that painless a death, as he will have… Talk about cruel and unusual, it would have been cruel and unusual to let him try and escape and shoot him in the back and have his last memory be someone standing over him and gloating over his pain. That happened to my son.”

That last sentence comes out choked with anguish, his voice breaking on the final word.

He struggled for control, steeling himself to return to the point: He has no doubt that Chavez is guilty. Police testified in the trial that Chavez himself begged police for the death penalty, writing in a note before giving the confession led them to Jimmy’s body: “My only wish and objective is to die.”

Chavez would later take the stand to deny his own confession, pointing the finger at someone else.

But the evidence, Ryce said, is overwhelming. “No one that has an ounce of intelligence and looks at the evidence in this case can come to any other conclusion. He’s the guy. He did it. He enjoyed doing it, and he’s about to pay the price that he ought to pay for having killed my son.”

Strong words, reflective of how the Ryces faced tragedy from the start, without sparing themselves and without blaming each other. Private people at heart, they went public after Jimmy’s death, harnessing their pain for prevention work. On the family’s website, jimmyryce.org, they have posted dozens of pictures of their boy’s South Florida childhood from infancy to fifth grade — on the beach, posing by a fallen palm tree, running in shorts with the dog — while also discussing in unflinching terms what they could have done differently as parents.

In today’s world of Amber Alerts, it’s hard to remember how few parents had any real awareness of sexual predators, Ryce says. “I remember how horrified we were when we first found out what the probable motivation was for Jimmy’s abduction. We were convinced he was abducted — we knew right away that he was not a runaway — and these people were trying to break the news to us of what likely was the reason. That was rough to learn.”

It hasn’t gotten easier, not really. The pain is a part of him now, as it was for Claudine up to the day she died.

“You can’t imagine the strain you feel,” he says, his hand straying to his chest. “You hear someone died of a broken heart — and honestly, you feel something going on inside. I mean, that’s as close to a broken heart as I ever want to happen. I think finally it just got her.”

They never saw a grief counselor, serving that role for each other, “which was far more meaningful. There are very few grief counselors that can help in a situation like that.’’

The years and anguish have taken a physical toll. He uses a cane now, a remnant of complications following knee replacement surgery. His constant companion since Claudine’s death is a small white Havanese dog named Ginger who wedges in next to him on his customary chair in his living room. At 70, he is working as an arbitrator on financial cases, basing himself in the Vero Beach home he and Claudine bought in the years after Jimmy went missing, with orange, fig, lemon and pistachio trees in the back yard. At the front door, a large oil portrait of a smiling Jimmy presides. It is Ryce’s favorite portrait of his son, a gift from a Brazilian artist they didn’t even know.

“The grief is going to be there, the anger is certainly part of it, and that includes watching our criminal justice system in its ugliest form. You see people working so hard to protect the person who took away the one that you love,’’ he said. “I’m not angry with everyone who’s against the death penalty — and some of them for ethical reasons — I just respectfully disagree with them.”

He has no interest in hearing from Chavez — “none” — but he wonders whether Chavez would have killed Jimmy “if he had known that he was going to end up where he is now, because he’s fighting hard as he can to stay alive. It matters to him now. I’d love to hear an honest answer as to whether he wishes he hadn’t killed our son. He reveled in it.’’

He’ll go to the execution with his son from his first marriage, Ted, 37, who had mostly stayed in the background, but helped his father through physical rehabilitation after his knee surgery complications.

“I’m very proud of my oldest son. I keep saying, look how he turned out, and I’m sure Jimmy would have turned out well, also. Tall — a lot more active and athletic than I am, I guarantee you. I don’t know where that came from.”

Ryce hopes the execution will offer some feeling of conclusion, maybe more for the South Florida community than for him. “There was sort of a sense of relief after the trial but it will really be over when the execution takes place.”

And then he will try to go on, he says, being an ordinary person forced into circumstances no one would ever want. He’ll keep trying to raise money for the bloodhound program and has just been re-elected as chairman of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearing House.

If he could ask one thing, he’d like people to think of his son — who would be 28 by now — as “just a wonderful little boy, 9 years old, wanting to live his life, and to remember him not as a victim but as a symbol of hope to kids everywhere, a reminder to everyone that if someone tries to take you we will look until we find you … People are going to forget the name Don Ryce and they may even forget the name Claudine Ryce but I don’t think they’ll forget Jimmy Ryce.”

Bid to spare Jodi Arias from death penalty rejected by Arizona judge


february 9, 2014

Phoenix – An Arizona judge rejected a bid by the lawyers of Jodi Arias, the woman convicted last year in the death of Travis Alexander, to spare her from the death penalty. As reported by Reuters, court papers related to the judge’s ruling were released on Friday.

Maricopa Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens stated in her ruling that the claim by defense attorneys that a state law permitting a second penalty phase for Arias was unconstitutional and represented cruel and unusual punishment was wrong.

Alexander was found dead in his Phoenix home in 2008 after being stabbed and shot. Arias was convicted of murder in May 2013, but a jury deadlocked in trying to determine her sentencing. A new jury is set to reconvene on March 17 for the trial’s second penalty phase.

Stephens is quoted by Reuters as writing in part of her three-page ruling, “Defendant has not been ‘acquitted’ of the death sentence by the jury’s failure to reach a verdict, and thus there is no constitutional bar to retrying the penalty phase.”

This report is provided by Justice News Flash – Phoenix Legal News

INDIANA – Overstreet challenges execution over competency – Michael Dean Overstreet


february 9, 2014

A man who has spent nearly 15 years on Indiana’s death row for raping and killing a Franklin College student says he isn’t competent to be executed.

Michael Dean Overstreet was convicted in 2000 of the 1997 death of Kelly Eckart. He’s previously challenged his execution on grounds including the effectiveness of his attorneys and his mental state at the time of the crime.

The Indianapolis Star reports (http://indy.st/1nJmuRR ) the new competency challenge is a rare strategy at the time of sentencing.

Public defender Steven Schutte says Overstreet is the first defendant he’s encountered in 20 years who doesn’t appear to understand his sentence.

Eckart’s mother, Connie Sutton, says she wants the legal wrangling to end so the execution can proceed.

Indiana hasn’t had an execution since 2009.

What Death Row Inmates’ Last Meals Say About Guilt or Innocence


february 9, 2014 (abcnews)

More than any of the bizarre traditions in American history, the “special meal” served to a convicted felon just prior to execution has captured the imagination and curiosity of just about everyone from movie moguls to legal scholars to scientists.

There is a historical suggestion that the meal serves as a means of reconciliation between the murderer and the society that has extracted final revenge, perhaps even making the executioner feel more comfortable in his solitary role.

But a new study offers evidence that the last meal provides a last chance for a person who feels he or she has been unjustly condemned to show innocence.

Researchers Kevin M. Kniffin and Brian Wansink of Cornell University have looked at the last meals requested — or rejected — by 247 persons who were executed in the United States between 2002 and 2006 and found that those who maintained their innocence to the very end were far more likely to reject the meal than prisoners who had accepted their guilt.

“Those who denied guilt were 2.7 times as likely to decline a last meal than people who admitted guilt (29 percent versus 8 percent,)” they conclude in their study, published in the journal Laws.

Prisoners who were “at peace” with their sentence, as the researchers put it, asked for 34 percent more calories than those who insisted they were innocent, and the “innocents” asked for “significantly fewer brand-name food items.”

The researchers see the declination of a last meal as an opportunity for a prisoner who thinks the conviction was wrong to tell the executioner to, well, shove it.

“Last meal requests offer windows into self-perceived or self-proclaimed innocence,” the researchers claim, and thus could provide a sort of court-of-last-resort verdict because if innocent people won’t eat, and guilty people will, perhaps the system ought to pay more attention to the final menu.

They concede in their own study, however, that there are “several limitations to generalizing from our analysis,” since claims of innocence might not be altogether honest reflections of the prisoner’s real opinion, and there is little continuity in how the records are kept from one prison to another, and most (71 percent) of the prisoners who claimed to be innocent still wanted that last meal.

Still, the results are intriguing and offer an additional reason for continued analysis of death row’s “special meals.” Why they are offered, what they mean, and why this started in the first place remains ambiguous.

It is generally thought that the tradition started centuries ago in Europe, when the last meal was seen as a way to deny vengeance on the part of society — so the meal must have been pretty good — and to allow the condemned a bit of peace before the blade dropped. It was also supposed to prevent his ghost from returning.

However, the law of the land in England, at least, as of the 18th century, was solitary confinement, on bread and water, until the end. So go figure. More recently, in the United States at least, the ritual has taken on a broader use, especially in highly publicized cases.

Odell Barnes, a 31-year-old black male, was sentenced to death in 1991 for murdering his lover, Helen Bass, in Texas. The case was based on the testimony of a sole witness who said he saw Barnes fleeing Bass’s home on the night of the stabbing. The evidence was considered so weak that Barnes became a poster child for the anti-execution movement.

Just before his execution, and still claiming innocence, Barnes was asked what he wanted for his last meal. He answered:

“Justice, equality, world peace.”

Sometimes, the requested last menu has seemed more sarcastic than conciliatory.

Timothy McVeigh, the domestic terrorist behind the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that claimed 168 lives, was executed in 2001 after eating two pints of mint chocolate-chip ice cream.

Controversy over the last meal can linger long after the execution. One of the most famous examples involved Ricky Ray Rector, who shot and killed a police officer in Arkansas and then tried to blow his own brains out. He survived with what amounted to a “frontal lobotomy,” which many claimed left him mentally unfit to stand trial.

He specifically asked for a slice of pecan pie as part of his last meal, but he didn’t eat it, apparently thinking he would enjoy it after the execution. Many still argue that showed he was incompetent and “did not understand his fate,” as one scholar put it.

Ignoring appeals from Pope Benedict XVI and former President Jimmy Carter, as well as thousands of others, Troy Davis was executed in Georgia in 2011 for killing an off-duty police officer. Davis, like others, used his opportunity to request a special meal to make a statement:

“This meal will not be my last,” he said.

One condemned man eliminated the opportunity for others in his situation to ask for any special meal at all.

Lawrence Russell Brewer asked for two chicken-fried steaks with gravy and sliced onions, a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger, a bowl of fried okra with ketchup, a pound of barbecued meat with half a loaf of white bread, a portion of three fajitas, a meat-lover’s pizza, ice cream, peanuts and on and on. When the meal arrived, he declined it, saying he wasn’t hungry.

The stunt so angered Texas authorities that the last-meal tradition was abolished in 2011.

Murderer Gary Gilmore got something that is denied to most inmates: three shots of whiskey. He died by firing squad in Utah in 1977.

Bruno Richard Hauptmann, convicted of kidnapping and killing Charles Lindberg’s baby, may have had more accusers, and defenders, than any other defendant in American history. Many, including Hauptmann, insisted he was innocent, and he went to the chair believing he would be spared. He had been told he would, if he just confessed to the crime.

He didn’t, and he died, after his special, curious meal of celery, olives, chicken, French fries, buttered peas, cherries and cake.

None, however, was better at rubbing salt in the wounds than Adolph Eichmann, the Holocaust mass murderer of World War II. His last meal:

A bottle of Carmel, a dry red wine from Israel.