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Execution set for Florida killer whose case altered sex predator law

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Florida Governor Rick Scott has signed a death warrant for a man who raped and murdered a Miami-area boy in 1995, in a case that triggered changes in U.S. laws on violent sexual predators.

The execution of Juan Carlos Chavez, 46, who admitted to the kidnap, rape and murder of 9-year-old Jimmy Ryce, is scheduled for the evening of February 12, according to the order signed by Scott on Thursday.

The search for Jimmy, who was kidnapped at gunpoint as he got off his school bus, drew national attention and helped bring changes to sexual predators laws, increasing public awareness and involvement in finding missing children.

In 1998, Florida lawmakers unanimously passed the Jimmy Ryce Act, which subjects convicted sex offenders to the possibility of indefinite civil commitment after they have completed their prison terms.

Jimmy lived with his family in the Redlands, an agricultural community in south Miami-Dade County, where Chavez worked as a farmhand.

Chavez confessed to forcing the boy into his truck, taking him to his trailer and raping him. When Jimmy tried to escape after several hours, Chavez shot him in the back and dismembered his body, according to the governor's office.

The boy's remains were found three months later near Chavez's trailer. His school book bag was found inside.

The Florida Supreme Court upheld Chavez's 1998 conviction and death sentence. Subsequent appeals were denied.

After Jimmy Ryce's death, his family members became advocates for other abducted and missing children. The Ryce family attended President Bill Clinton's signing of an executive order in 1996 instructing federal agencies to post missing-children posters in federal buildings.

Jimmy's mother, Claudine, died in 2009. His father, Don Ryce, said news of the pending execution brought "sadness and relief."

"I hope this sends a message to predators that this behavior will not go unpunished," he said in a statement.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Gunna Dickson)

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