Glenna Milberg witnesses execution

RAIFORD, Fla. – If cameras were allowed in the witness chamber, the defining image would show Juan Carlos Chavez strapped on a gurney, covered with a sheet, and the pained expression on Don Ryce's face -- watching unflinchingly -- reflecting in the overhead mirror.

Eighteen years earlier, Ryce pleaded with the man who took his son.

"Don't kill the child. Don't kill the child. Because if you do, people will not forget. They will not forgive. We will hunt you down and we will put you to death," Ryce said.

That is exactly what the state of Florida did.

Glenna Milberg talked with Jeff Weinser early Wednesday in preparation for being witness to the execution of Chavez.

Weinser, witness to two prior executions, explained it as a surreal experience.

"We're human. We're journalists, but we're also human. And the way I got through it was to think about the victims in the case -- the five Gainesville students that were murdered. I was able to think about them and get through it a little easier," Weinser said.

The execution took 17 minutes from beginning to end, Chavez being declared dead at 8:17 p.m.

Chavez said "No, gracias" to any last words, but did write a final statement -- in English -- indicating his faith puts him at peace.

A detective and prosecutors who worked the case also came to bear witness. So did officers who handled the bloodhounds donated by the foundation in Jimmy Ryce's name to help find missing children. Also in attendance was one of the original case jurors -- Laura, a mother whose son was about Jimmy's age.

It has been 18 years since Chavez took Jimmy Ryce at gunpoint, fresh off his school bus, and spent four hours sodomizing him in a horse trailer.

"In spite of all the terrible tragedies, my father and I still stand strong," said Ted Ryce, Don's remaining son.

"I wanted to make sure that he (Don) knew the jurors that were there really, really care and we're not going forget, and we do stand by him and support him," Laura said.

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