STARKE — Manuel Valle was executed by lethal injection at Florida State Prison on Wednesday for fatally shooting a Coral Gables police officer and wounding another one 33 years ago during a traffic stop.
His execution was scheduled for 4 p.m., but the U.S. Supreme Court delayed it nearly three hours to review — and ultimately reject — Valle's last-ditch petition to block it.
Valle was convicted in 1978 of murdering Officer Louis Pena, who had pulled Valle over for running a red light. Valle, then 27 years old and driving a stolen Camaro, shot 41-year-old Pena in the neck and backup Officer Gary Spell in the back before fleeing. He was caught two days later.
Amid retrials and repeated hearings, Valle spent more than three decades on death row, one of the longest-serving condemned inmates in Florida. Gov. Rick Scott signed Valle's death warrant — the governor's first — on June 30. But the courts delayed the execution twice, pushing it back eight weeks.
When Valle was declared dead at 7:14 p.m. Wednesday, two of Pena's daughters, Jeneane Skeen of Fort Myers and Lisa Pena of Miami, tearfully hugged in the front row center of the witness chamber.
"At this point, it's beyond closure and it's beyond justice," Skeen, surrounded by a dozen relatives and now-retired cops, told reporters after the execution. "We finally got revenge on the low-life piece of human waste that murdered our father."
Valle's family, which did not witness the execution, declined to speak to the press through his lawyers. One of his lawyers and a Catholic chaplain did sit in the witness chamber, next to Pena's daughters.
Valle, 61, became the first Florida inmate executed using pentobarbital, a sedative, as the first of three drugs in the state's lethal injections. His lawyers had questioned the drug change from the previous anesthetic, sodium thiopental, saying pentobarbital was untested to render an inmate unconscious.
For Valle, the day began when he awoke at 5:32 a.m.
He visited through a glass barrier with three sisters, two nieces, a brother-in-law, and his daughter, Rebecca, who was 2 years old when her father was arrested. Later, Rebecca, one of Valle's sisters and a niece spent an hour with him — with physical contact.
By noon, Valle was alone. He showered and dressed in black trousers and a white shirt. He ate most of his last meal: fried chicken breast, white rice, garlic toast and peach cobbler. He drank a Coke. He met with the chaplain.
He took diazepam to ease his nerves. And then he sat in his cell and waited. And waited.
About 3:30 p.m., the nation's high court issued its delay to consider an appeal from Valle's lawyers, who argued Valle did not receive an appropriate shot at clemency and should be granted a stay of execution.
After nearly three hours, the court denied the stay. The execution was rescheduled for 6:55 p.m.
When the brown curtain of the execution chamber went up at 6:56 p.m., Valle, who refused a second anti-anxiety drug, lay still with his eyes closed, occasionally adjusting his feet and legs. His arms, about 45 degrees from his body, were restrained by brown straps. A white sheet covered him from the neck down.
The warden, Timothy Cannon, asked Valle if he had any last words.
"No, I don't," Valle uttered.
The execution began at 6:58 p.m. After the pentobarbital was administered, Valle opened his eyes wide, shifted his feet, turned to the warden and said something inaudible to the witnesses. Later, a Department of Corrections spokeswoman said Valle asked if he needed to start counting backward again. The warden told him to shut his eyes, the spokeswoman said.
By 7:01 p.m., Valle no longer appeared to be moving. The witness chamber remained silent.
At 7:13 p.m., a man in a white coat came into the room, listened for Valle's heartbeat and checked his eyes.
The warden spoke briefly into a wall phone, which had had an open line to the Governor's Office since 3:25 p.m.
"The sentence of the state of Florida vs. Manuel Valle was carried out at 7:14 p.m.," Warden Cannon told the witness room.