STARKE — Florida reinstituted the death penalty Tuesday with the execution of a child killer.
Unlike a botched execution in 2006 that halted the state's death penalty for more than a year, the execution of Mark Dean Schwab appeared seamless and peaceful. Schwab, 39, made no final statement and stopped moving only two or three minutes after chemicals began flowing into his veins.
He was pronounced dead 13 minutes after the death chamber's curtain rolled open.
"That was the most peaceful passing I've ever been to, and I wish I could know that my son passed as peacefully," said Vickie Rios-Martinez, the mother of Schwab's victim, Junny Rios-Martinez.
Schwab abducted, raped and murdered 11-year-old Junny in 1991 after seeing his picture in a newspaper. Schwab posed as his father and lured him to a ball field.
Florida halted executions after the Dec. 13, 2006, death of Angel Diaz. Corrections officials mistakenly poked needles through Diaz's veins, causing the chemicals to splash into his flesh. Diaz took 34 minutes to die, and some observers said he appeared in pain. An autopsy found footlong chemical burns on his arms.
Then-Gov. Jeb Bush convened a panel to study lethal injection procedures. The Florida Department of Corrections adopted 37 changes in protocol recommended by the panel.
One of the most significant was that a warden shook Schwab, grazed his eyebrows and said his name to ensure he was unconscious after he was given a sedative. Only when Schwab didn't answer or move did the warden signal to the executioner to release the two final chemicals in the state's three-drug cocktail — a paralytic and a drug that causes cardiac arrest.
Capital defense lawyers say those two drugs can cause excruciating pain if the sedative wears off too fast. The panel that studied lethal injection made many of the recommendations so that the state could avoid claims that the procedure was unconstitutionally cruel or painful.
The death chamber also had several changes, including a better sound system, more centrally displayed clock and mirrors and a videocamera that gave medical staffers a better view of Schwab. He faced the witness room, whereas in the past witnesses saw the inmate from the side. Only a warden and agent from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement were in the death chamber, which is different from past executions in which several corrections officials were present.
Schwab ate a last meal of eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, toast and chocolate milk before meeting with family members and a spiritual adviser during the day. Corrections officials described him as calm, quiet and polite.
Schwab closed his eyes as the sedative flowed into his veins. He swallowed hard a few times, then appeared to take a few deep breaths. His chin quivered and then he was still.
About 10 minutes later, a physician emerged from behind a curtain, put a stethoscope to Schwab's chest, looked at the clock and pronounced him dead. In previous lethal injection executions, the physician wore what appeared to be a welder's mask over his head to shield his identity. In this case, he did not. His name, however, is not public record.
Thirty-seven witnesses saw the execution, including about a dozen of Junny's relatives.
"We had no problems and the protocol was followed," DOC spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said after the execution. "It was humane and dignified."
Schwab had a history of sexually abusing boys when he murdered Junny. He had been sentenced to prison for raping a teenage boy at knifepoint but was released early in 1991. Only about a month later, he saw Junny's photo in a newspaper. The boy, who lived in the east coast city of Cocoa, had won a kite-flying contest.
Schwab called the family posing as a newspaper reporter and said he wanted to help Junny with his surfing career. He gained the trust and confidence of Junny and his family, then called the boy's school one day pretending to be his father. Schwab told school officials to have Junny meet him at a ball field.
Schwab abducted, raped and strangled Junny, then stuffed his body in a foot locker, which he dumped in a remote patch of palmettos. He fled to Ohio but was caught a few days later and led authorities to Junny's body.
He was executed 16 years to the day after he was sentenced to death.
Junny's mother said she was pleased Schwab died peacefully, but she was displeased that the period from sentence to execution was so long. She said Florida should revise its death penalty system so that all executions must be carried out within five years of sentence.
"Seventeen years is way too long to wait for justice. And without justice there is no closure," said Rios-Martinez, who, along with other family members, wore a T-shirt with Junny's picture on the front and "Justice delayed is Justice denied" printed on the back.
Gov. Charlie Crist said earlier this week that he hoped to increase the frequency of executions. His predecessor, Jeb Bush, made the same pledge but didn't make much headway. A slow appeals process and continual problems with execution procedures contribute to the slow speed.
Florida's death row currently holds 387 people but has averaged only about two executions a year since the state's death penalty was reinstated in 1979. At that rate, most of the condemned will die in prison of old age.
About 50 protesters gathered outside the prison in opposition to the death penalty. Mark Elliott, executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said he has seen the number of people against the death penalty surge since the Diaz execution. He said the death penalty's sluggishness harms victim's loved ones and should result in its abolishment.
Rios-Martinez said she opposed the death penalty, too, before her son was murdered. Now she believes it's necessary.
"Now his drama is finished, his reign of evil has come to an end," she said of Schwab. "The universe has brought about balance, justice and the law of consequence. I have closure."