The father of Jimmy Ryce, a boy who was abducted and killed in 1995, returned to South Florida Friday after traveling to Tallahassee to protest an appeal by the man convicted of killing his son.
Ryce was 9 years old on Sept. 11, 1995, when he was abducted after getting off his school bus in the Redlands, south of Miami. After a three-month search, the child's backpack was found in the trailer of Juan Carlos Chavez, a local ranch hand. Chavez led authorities to Ryce's dismembered body.
Chavez was found guilty of kidnapping, raping and killing Ryce in September 1998.
Chavez is now appealing his conviction on the grounds that he did not understand his right to remain silent when he confessed to the crime.
Jimmy's father, Don Ryce, traveled to Tallahassee to sit in the front row at the hearing on Thursday. He said it was the most difficult trip he has taken since his son died because his wife, Claudine, died of a heart attack in January. The couple always made the trips to court together.
"Jimmy is still very much in my heart, and I know Claudine would have wanted to be there," Don Ryce said. "I'm not giving up my quest for justice for my family nor my fight for the other kids, so that hopefully the day will someday come when we don't have incidents like what happened to Jimmy."
Don and Claudine Ryce founded the Jimmy Ryce Center for Victims Of Predatory Abduction in 1996. They worked for years as victims' advocates. The Jimmy Ryce Act, which could keep sexual predators behind bars longer than their sentences, became law in 1999.
But is Don Ryce starting to lose confidence in the system?
"We will see what happens. If things don't happen soon, I'd have to say yes," Don Ryce said.
The Florida Supreme Court heard evidence Thursday in Chavez's appeal, but it could be a year before it decides whether Chavez should get a new trial.