Sometimes I meet people on this crime and justice beat who just take my breath away. I want to tell you about one.
Her name is Vicki Rios-Martinez. She's the mother of six, grandmother to 12 and the survivor of a murder so heinous you may never forget the details. From that unspeakable crime Rios-Martinez found the courage to fight for a change in the law.
In short, her young son, Junny, was kidnapped, sexually molested and murdered 17 years ago. It was only recently that Vicki and her husband watched their son's killer be put to death at the Starke, Florida State Prison.
Now, I've stood inside a death chamber but I've never witnessed an execution. I don't think I'd have the stomach for it. But Vicki and her family did. 17 years after the most horrible day of her life there she was sitting in the gallery of the execution chamber, wearing a T-shirt with Junny's picture on it, hoping the death of a monster named Mark Dean Schwab would somehow bring her a long sought conclusion.
Instead she found herself contrasting how her 11 year old son died with how Schwab passed.
"The procedure was very, very peaceful. His eyes shut, his jaw went slack and he never woke up again. There was no suffering for Mark Schwab," she told me.
In other words, Schawb's death was nothing like her little Junny's.
Junny Rios-Martinez was everybody's buddy. Outgoing, athletic, handsome. He was five feet tall and weighed just 76 pounds. His picture appeared in a local Florida newspaper after he won a kite flying contest and that's all it took to arouse Schwab. He posed as a reporter who wanted to do a follow up interview with Junny and within weeks he'd cunningly groomed both the boy and the parents to trust him.
Here's the part that's so unbelievable. Schwab was out of prison just one month when he first contacted the Rios-Martinez family. He had a history of violent child sex attacks and both his previous victims were about Junny's age. Schwab faced the possibility of life in prison but he was sentenced to serve only eight years for viciously raping a 12 year old. He served less than half that and got out in just 3 years. He got no psychological treatment or rehab in prison. He was enrolled in a sex offender treatment program at the time he began to openly stalk Junny. A lot of good that did.
After they found little Junny's naked body in a footlocker, carelessly thrown into a drainage ditch, there was a trial. Schwab was found guilty and sentenced to death. And then the penalty phase was drawn out by appeal after appeal for a decade and a half. During that time Vicki and her family grieved and tried to heal and prayed for justice.
"We discovered there is only one page in all the law books for victim's families," Vicki said. "All the rest of that law book stuff is for protection of the criminals."
So Vicki took it upon herself to add some pages to the Florida law books. She and her family won passage of the "Junny Rios-Martinez, Jr., Act″, which prohibits those convicted of sexual battery from receiving early release.
Theirs is a large, loving clan and they worked hard to achieve the American Dream. Vicki and her husband run a popular hair salon. He also works at the Parks Department and plays in a band. Vicki, who says she was always against the death penalty until Junny's murder, now gives victim impact speeches to law enforcement groups.
So why, after 17 years and finally finding a happy routine in life again, did they want to watch the execution of their son's murderer? "For closure," Vicki says. But she admits she came away feeling short changed.
"We give a convict this peaceful passage. It wasn't scary ... he didn't have to face us," because when the curtain opened between the death chamber and the gallery Schwab was already sedated and strapped to the gurney. The whole thing was over in less than 15 minutes.
"If you were the victim (of that man) you would face him and look into his eyes at the very last moment. You know, the eyes are the soul. They robbed us of looking into his soul. Maybe he would have wanted to say something to us," she said as her voice trailed off.
Vicki Rios-Martinez just recently lost her beloved aunt and her father. And she wishes, without a hint of bitterness in her voice, that they would have had such a peaceful way to leave this earth. "We give it to the criminal," she says again ... "but not to the suffering." Nothing for the victim.
Diane Dimond's Web site is: www.DianeDimond.net - She can be reached at Diane@DianeDimond.net