STARKE, Fla. Sept 30 2011A Florida man convicted of killing a Coral Gables police officer during a traffic stop 33 years ago has been executed at the Florida State Prison.
Manuel Valle, 61, was given a lethal injection and pronounced dead at 7:14 p.m. Wednesday, the governor’s office reported.
The process began at 6:56 p.m. when a curtain opened, allowing family members of slain officer Louis Pena and others in a witness room to see Valle with a white sheet placed over him. His arms and face were exposed. He appeared calm and relaxed.
When the first drug was administered, Valle raised his feet, turned his head toward the team warden and said something that could not be heard in the witness room. He then yawned, placed his head back down, closed his eyes and made movements with his mouth as if he was snoring.
At 7:04 p.m. the team warden, Timothy Cannon, lightly tapped Valle. A doctor walked into a room at 7:13 p.m. and examined Valle. By 7:14 p.m., the team warden was informed that Valle was dead.
Jeneane Skeen, who was 13 when her father was killed, sat in the front row, occasionally blinking rapidly and tightened her lips as she watched Valle. Once Valle was pronounced dead, Skeen held back tears as she smiled and hugged her sister, Lisa Pena. Other relatives consoled each other.
Afterward, Skeen read a statement criticizing the process that allowed Valle to remain alive 33 years after the killing, saying Valle’s rights were put before her father’s.
“This is not justice, for 33 years people have asked us if the death penalty will really bring us closure, at this point it’s beyond closure and it’s beyond justice. We finally got revenge on the lowlife piece of human waste that murdered our father. Officer Louis Pena finally got his rights.”
Valle was the first Florida inmate to be executed using the state’s newly revised mix of lethal drugs, a concoction that faced legal challenges which twice delayed carrying out the death sentence.
Valle fatally shot Pena on April 2, 1978, after Pena stopped Valle for a traffic violation while driving a stolen car, according to court records. He also shot fellow officer Gary Spell, who survived and then testified against Valle in court.
Spell testified that when he arrived the day of the shooting, Valle was seated in Pena’s patrol car. As Pena was checking the license plate of the car Valle had been driving, Valle walked back to the car, reached inside and then walked back and fired a single shot at Pena, the records indicate. He then fired two shots at Spell, who was saved by his bulletproof vest, the records show. Valle fled and was arrested two days later.
A 4 p.m. EDT execution was initially planned, but Gov. Rick Scott’s office said it was delayed by an unsuccessful late bid before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Southern prisons had seen a series of executions in recent days.
On Sept. 21, Georgia executed Troy Davis for the 1989 shooting death of a policeman, despite an international outcry and claims he was innocent. The same day, Texas executed white supremacist Lawrence Russell Brewer for the 1998 dragging death of James Byrd Jr., a black man. A day later, Alabama executed Derrick O. Mason for the shooting death of a store clerk in a 1994 robbery.
Pena’s son, also named Louis Pena, stood outside the Florida prison hours before the execution and spoke of his reaction to the unfolding events. “It means finally, my dad’s soul is put to rest after 33 years,” said Pena, who was 19 when his father died and is now 53.
“He killed a cop in cold blood … He killed a cop and lived 33 years. This man lived another lifetime after taking a life,” Pena added.
Inside Skeen and Lisa Pena were wearing buttons with their father’s face and name on them.
“We wanted him to look out and see him,” Skeen said of Valle. “We really hope he saw us.”
Valle was initially sentenced to die in 1981, but the state Supreme Court ordered a new trial that year. He was again convicted and sentenced to die, but the U.S. Supreme Court vacated that death sentence in 1986. Another jury recommended the death sentence anew in 1988.
Since Scott signed Valle’s death warrant, the original Aug. 2 execution date has been delayed twice — once by the Florida Supreme Court and then by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Both courts later rejected arguments by Valle’s lawyers that the new drug mix would cause him pain and constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
The state previously used sodium thiopental to render condemned prisoners unconscious before the second and third drugs, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, were injected. But sodium thiopental is no longer made in the US and now Florida and other states are substituting it with pentobarbital, marketed as Nembutal.
Eighteen people have been executed nationwide using pentobarbital as a replacement anesthetic since Oklahoma became the first last year.
Valle’s warrant was the first Scott signed as governor. It comes in a year when there have been an unusually high number of police officers killed in Florida. Six officers have been fatally shot in 2011, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, a website that tracks officer deaths nationally. That’s already more than each of the last three years and one shy of the seven officers killed by gunfire in 2007.