By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - A Cuban immigrant was executed by lethal injection on Wednesday for the 1995 kidnapping, rape and murder of a 9-year-old south Florida boy, a spokeswoman for the governor said.
Juan Carlos Chavez, who confessed to the murder of Jimmy Ryce, was executed at the Florida State Prison at Starke, Florida, at 8:17 p.m. EST (0117 GMT Thursday), said Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for Governor Rick Scott.
A Florida law passed in the wake of the killing cleared the way for imprisoned sexual offenders to be held after their release if found likely to repeat their crimes. The law has been replicated across the United States.
The execution, attended by Ryce's father, was briefly delayed by a last-minute appeal that the U.S. Supreme Court denied.
The Department of Corrections said Chavez had a last meal of steak, French fries, strawberry ice cream, mixed fruit and mango juice in the afternoon. He had no visitors, officials said.
In a written statement released by the state after his death, Chavez expressed no remorse, saying that "None of us can pass judgment on another (man's) sins."
Chavez wrote, "I doubt that there is anything I can say that would satisfy everybody, even less those who see in me nothing more (than) someone deserving of punishment."
Chavez, who worked as a farmhand and had no criminal history, kidnapped the boy at gunpoint as he got off a school bus in Redland, an agricultural area of south Miami-Dade County.
He took Ryce to his trailer and raped him. When the boy tried to escape, Chavez shot him in the back, dismembered him and hid his body in plastic pots.
The boy's disappearance shook south Florida and garnered national attention. Hundreds of volunteers signed up for the search and his parents held a stream of press conferences.
Three months after disappearing, Jimmy's remains were found near Chavez's trailer after his landlord found the boy's school bag.
Chavez arrived in south Florida on a raft from Cuba with two others in 1991 and was working as a farmhand at the time of the murder. Little is known about his background or family, who remained in Cuba.
The Florida Supreme Court upheld Chavez's 1998 conviction and death sentence. Subsequent appeals were denied.
After Jimmy's death Don Ryce and his mother Claudine, who died in 2009, became advocates for abducted and missing children. They opened a center for abduction victims in south Florida and have provided hundreds of bloodhounds to law enforcement nationwide to help find missing children.
The Ryces were on hand as President Bill Clinton in 1996 signed an order instructing federal agencies to post missing-children posters in federal buildings.
Don Ryce, a retired lawyer now living near central Florida, told the Miami Herald recently that the loss of his son broke the heart of his wife and his daughter.
"This is the kind of loss that never gets right, that you never completely recover from," Ryce told the paper.
His daughter, Jimmy's half-sister, Martha, committed suicide in 2012.
After the execution Don Ryce told reporters that he had a message for future child predators.
"Don't kill the child. Don't kill the child," Ryce said. "Because if you do, people will not forget. They will not forgive. We will hunt you down, and we will put you to death."
(Writing and reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Editing by David Adams, Sofina Mirza-Reid, Eric Walsh, Richard Chang and Lisa Shumaker)