Suspect in boy's murder tries to shift the blame

Published Sept. 3, 1998|Updated Sept. 13, 2005

A handyman charged with the rape and murder of a 9-year-old Miami-Dade County boy is innocent and the son of his former bosses is the killer, a defense attorney said Wednesday.

"Police arrested an innocent man," lawyer Art Koch told a panel of 12 jurors and five alternates during opening statements of Juan Carlos Chavez's trial.

Miami-Dade prosecutor Catherine Vogel countered that Jimmy Ryce's book bag and a handgun used in his slaying were found in Chavez's trailer and that a confession and forensic evidence implicate Chavez. "This defendant is guilty of kidnapping Jimmy Ryce, he's guilty of sexually battering him, and he's guilty of murdering him," Vogel said.

After Jimmy disappeared in September 1995, a nationwide search was conducted for the baseball-loving boy. His body, cut up into several pieces, was found three months later at a ranch owned by Susan and Jay Scheinhaus in a rural stretch of south Miami-Dade County, where Chavez worked.

Because of publicity, the trial was moved to Orlando.

Chavez, 31, became a suspect in the killing after Susan Scheinhaus, looking for items stolen from her home, searched his trailer and found Jimmy's book bag and a gun.

The evidence, Chavez's defense attorney said, was placed in Chavez's trailer by Susan Scheinhaus and her son, Edward. On the day Jimmy disappeared, Chavez walked into a trailer at the ranch and found Edward Scheinhaus standing over Jimmy's body, Koch said. Scheinhaus told Chavez, " "It was an accident. You have to help me move the body,' " Koch said.

Chavez helped move the body into a truck, but when he told Scheinhaus to go to the police, he responded, "We're in this together. It's my word against yours," Koch said.

Chavez didn't go to the police because he feared being deported to Cuba, where he had been serving a sentence for stealing government property before he fled the island, Koch said.

The Scheinhauses couldn't be reached for comment.

Vogel told jurors that Chavez kidnapped Jimmy as the boy walked home from a school bus stop. Chavez took him to a trailer near a horse pasture on the Scheinhaus ranch and raped him, she said. Later, Jimmy tried to escape and was shot and killed by Chavez, the prosecutor said.

Chavez placed the body in a metal drum for several days before he hacked it up, placed it in three large planters and poured cement over it, Vogel said.