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Beyond a shadow of a doubt: Junny Rios-Martinez

Death penalty on ice

Courts | With its latest stay, the U.S. Supreme Court halts putting convicted murderers to death

Issue: "Not angry anymore," Dec. 1, 2007

Warning: disturbing content

At age 11, Junny Rios-Martinez was a popular Florida sixth-grader who liked baseball and surfing. Junny also had a knack for flying kites, which earned him a picture and short article in Florida Today, a Brevard County newspaper, after he won a kite-flying contest.

Junny's photo captured the attention of a man who introduced himself to Junny's parents as "Mark Dean," another Florida Today reporter interested in doing a follow-up story on Junny.

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Vicki and Braulio Rios-Martinez agreed to an interview. They did not know Dean was really Mark Dean Schwab, a child molester who had served time for sodomizing a 13-year-old boy at knife point.

Carrying a notebook and pen, Schwab went to the Rios-Martinez home to meet Junny. With his mother nearby, the boy warmed to Schwab, sharing his baseball and surfing trophies while chatting about school and fast cars.

"You must be very proud of him," Schwab told Mrs. Rios-Martinez.

Over the next three weeks, Schwab attended one of the boy's baseball games and told Mrs. Rios-Martinez that he had quit Florida Today and taken a job with a surfing magazine. He said he had contact with a surfing company interested in sponsoring Junny. Schwab even brought what appeared to be contracts and a schedule of surfing contests. Junny and his parents were excited about the possibilities.

About 10 days later, Schwab called Junny's school pretending to be Mr. Rios-Martinez. He left a message that Junny was to meet his dad at a nearby baseball field. When the boy arrived, he found Schwab driving a U-Haul and willingly got into the truck.

Schwab took the boy to a hotel room and bound him with duct tape. Then he cut the crying boy's clothes off with a knife, raped him, then killed him. Schwab stuffed Junny's body into a footlocker he'd bought at K-Mart earlier that day and hid the trunk in some woods.

That was April 18, 1991. That October a judge convicted Schwab of murder and sentenced him to death. Sixteen years later, his appeals exhausted, Schwab was scheduled to die by lethal injection.

That was Nov. 15, 2007. But four hours before the needle was to prick his skin, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed Schwab's execution.

Despite the cruel and unusual nature of his crime, Schwab's 11th-hour appeal happened to intersect with another-a case in which two Kentucky inmates are arguing that the state's three-drug lethal injection protocol violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition on "cruel and unusual" punishment.

Schwab's is the fourth execution stayed since the high court agreed to hear the Kentucky case. Of 38 death-penalty states, 37 use lethal injection as the primary method. The Florida protocol is the same as that used in Kentucky. Experts say Schwab's case may signal what is in effect a nationwide temporary moratorium on capital punishment.

"I think what's going on here is that [courts] are waiting to see what the Supreme Court decides in the Kentucky case," said Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst David Muhlhausen, who in June testified before Congress on the efficacy of the death penalty. State judiciaries "don't want to proceed with executions, then have the court rule six months later that the method of execution was unconstitutional."

The state of Florida had not executed a prisoner since December 2006, when guards botched injections to murderer Angel Diaz. It took Diaz 34 minutes to die, twice as long as normal. After a statewide moratorium, Florida revised its injection procedures. In July, Gov. Charles Crist tapped Mark Dean Schwab to be first to die under the new rules.

Had he lived, Junny Rios-Martinez would be 28. Family members were on their way to witness his killer's execution when Junny's father got the call that the execution had been stayed. "After I hung up, nothing was said," the boy's father said. "This silence in the car you wouldn't believe. . . . We were very disappointed but we weren't blind to it." Family members decided to continue on to a park where they had a cookout celebrating Junny's life. His father later commented on the high court's actions to the Orlando Sentinel: "This is not a question of guilt or innocence. These people are guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. What are these judges there for?"

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