Manuel Valle, who murdered a Coral Gables police officer 33 years ago, is scheduled to be executed Aug. 2 under the first death warrant signed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
Valle, 61, shot and killed Officer Louis Pena on April 2, 1978 after he pulled over the suspect and an accomplice in a stolen car. Valle was convicted of the crime soon after.
But Valle avoided execution due to numerous appeals, reversals and re-hearings that stretch all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. He ultimately survived three death sentences. Before one of his convictions, he tearfully pleaded for mercy before a packed court. A Catholic Archbishop asked that he be spared.
Officer Pena’s family, however, were elated with the news of his pending execution.
“Are they going to fry him?” the slain officer’s first wife, Inez Afanador, 73, of Lehigh Acres, said when called by a Miami Herald reporter Thursday night. When told of the death warrant, she cried out “Yippee! On Aug. 2, they’re finally going to give him the great needle.”
For Pena's daughter, Jeneane Skeen, 46, the news was electrifying. She was 13 when he father was murdered. Her three children never got to meet their grandfather.
"It's going to be very important for them. It's significant, he missed out on everything" in their lives, Skeen said.
Skeen said she recently wrote three e-mails to Gov. Scott asking when Valle would be executed, but got no response. It came Thursday. "God, we're finally going to get justice in this case … We're happy another bad guy finally gets what he deserved."
Valle shot and killed Pena after being pulled over for running a red light in a stolen car. As the officer ran the tag, Valle managed to exit the patrol car, walk back to the stolen vehicle and retrieve a gun. He walked back to Pena and shot him in the neck. The officer died in his own blood.
Officer Gary Spell witnessed the killing and was shot by Valle as well. He was saved by a bullet-proof vest. Valle fled the scene, but was arrested two days later in Deerfield Beach. His accomplice, Felix Ruiz, was convicted of an accessory after the fact to the murder and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Spell recently retired.
"That’s amazing. He lasted more than my entire career," Spell said. "It’s aggravating that it went on so long. I knew it was a 100 percent just sentence. There was no question about his guilt. I witnessed it. I was shot.”