Sunday, November 18, 2007

Child killer's delayed execution means agony for family

STARKE, Florida (CNN) -- The call. He expected it. Dreaded it. But he didn't hesitate to answer.

When Junny Rios-Martinez's cell phone rang Thursday afternoon, he and his wife were in their car, getting the family together on their way to witness the execution of their son's killer scheduled for that night.

"It was a woman from the governor's office. She told me there was a stay."

"I told her thank you, that I was disappointed, but not terribly surprised."

Mark Dean Schwab, 38, won a stay from the Supreme Court hours before he was scheduled to be put to death.

When Rios-Martinez hung up, no one said a word.

"There was a silence in the car that lasted several minutes. Everyone knew by the tone of my voice what happened," Rios-Martinez said.

Junny and Vicki Rios-Martinez had been waiting for more than 16 years to see their son's killer executed. Now, they'll have to wait even longer.

The Supreme Court is reviewing whether executions by injection violate the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. At issue is whether the drug mix used in more than 35 states can cause pain that can't be detected.

The high court is studying a Kentucky case and isn't expected to rule until sometime next year.

Rios-Martinez said the delay gives him just one more reason to be fed up with a criminal justice system he feels has let him down.

"People tell me I'm full of anger. Why shouldn't I be? My son was my life. He was the light of my eyes. I loved him more than anything," said Rios-Martinez. Watch the father say people seem to forget who the victim is »

In April 1991, Schwab posed as a reporter and told the family he wanted to do a surfing story about 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez Jr.

When Schwab showed up at their home, the family said he was wearing a fake newspaper ID. Junny's parents had no idea Schwab was just out of prison. He'd served three years for sexual assault and was released early.

For three weeks, Schwab courted the family. The boy's mother said he brought him McDonald's coupons and an Easter card.

At one point, she said her husband got suspicious and she told him not to worry. "I said you watch too many crime shows on TV."

Junny's parents said Schwab wanted to act as the boy's agent and take him to interviews with surfing magazines out of town. Each time Junny's mom would insist on going along, she said Schwab would agree, and then come up with an excuse to cancel the trip.

Finally, Junny's parents said, Schwab called the boy's school and pretended to be his father. He left a message to have Junny meet him and the school passed it along.

According to state records, on April 18, 1991, a schoolmate of Junny reported the boy got into a U-Haul truck with a man. Days later, Junny's body was found in a footlocker. Authorities said he'd been raped and asphyxiated.

The family's emotional wounds remain raw after all these years.

When they got the call that Schwab's execution was stayed, the family drove to a relative's home and debated what to do next.

Should they get back in their cars and keep heading to the prison -- if nothing else, to meet with waiting reporters?

"The family was split. Some wanted to go, others didn't," said Rios-Martinez.

"I left the room to meditate and asked Junny what he wanted me to do. He told me we shouldn't go. He told me he wanted us to celebrate his life." The family agreed.

Rios-Martinez tried to remain positive and upbeat, but he was seething. He was counting on seeing Schwab again in person, this time strapped to a gurney.

He remembered an encounter with his son's killer years earlier after his conviction. Rios-Martinez went to the jail where Schwab was being held and said he asked a jailer to allow him to see Schwab.

Junny's father said a clear Plexiglass partition separated the men.

Schwab was lying down with a piece of paper hiding his face. Junny's father said Schwab then stood up.

Rios-Martinez said he found himself staring into the eyes of the man who took his son's life.

"I asked the officer to open the door, but he wouldn't, Rios-Martinez said.

If he had, Rios-Martinez said, he would have "grabbed Schwab by the throat and made him visualize the last moments of my son's life...his bewilderment and anguish."

The boy's father said he often imagines how his son must have suffered.

He said he told Schwab: "I'm looking at a dead man. I told him I would be the first and last face he saw before he died."

The victim's family is convinced it's just a matter of time before Schwab's execution is rescheduled.

"I promised him [Schwab] I would be there in the front seat."

But, for now, he prefers to put Schwab out of his mind.

"As far as I'm concerned, he no longer exists. It's over. It's over."

On Saturday, Junny's family and friends will hold what they're calling a celebration of his short life at the Junny Rios-Martinez Park in Cocoa, Florida.

"We decided to accentuate the positive," Rios-Martinez said.

They plan on showing a video about Junny's life. He would have been 28 years old.

"The family is more united than ever. My son's spirit lives in all of us."

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