On September 11, 1995, fifteen days before his 10th birthday, nine-year-old Ryce was riding the bus from school. He was dropped off, along with ten classmates, and had to walk less than a block to his home. According to his confession, Chavez blocked Ryce's path with his pickup truck and forced him at gunpoint into the truck. Chavez took Ryce to his trailer where he raped him. About four hours later, when he heard a helicopter hovering above, Ryce ran to the door and tried to open it only to be shot in the back by Chavez, who held the child until he took his last breath. Then, Chavez decapitated and dismembered him.
The child's decapitated and dismembered body was found three months later near Chavez's trailer.
Chavez worked for the Scheinhaus family. He lived in a trailer on their property. Around the time of Ryce's disappearance, Scheinhaus reported several items missing from her home including a handgun and jewelry. Scheinhaus suspected Chavez, after consulting with a psychic, but had no evidence to support her suspicions. Aided by a locksmith, Scheinhaus entered Chavez's trailer. She found her handgun and young Ryce's bookbag. She reported her findings to the Federal Bureau of Investigation on December 5, 1995. Chavez was found a day later and taken in for questioning.
Being advised of his rights and after a 55-hour-long interrogation, Chavez openly admitted to abducting, raping and murdering Ryce. Chavez also led police to the boy's body, which was dismembered and hidden in cement in three plastic planters.
In the fall of 1998, Juan Carlos Chavez was convicted of kidnapping, sexual battery, and capital murder. He was sentenced to death. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed his conviction and sentence on November 21, 2002. In July 2004, Chavez filed a motion for post-conviction relief, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. The motion was amended in May 2005, and was heard in Miami-Dade Circuit Court on January 9, 2007. The circuit court judge denied the motion on March 8, 2007. On May 23, 2007, Chavez appealed the denial to the Florida Supreme Court, filing a petition for habeas corpus at the same time. The court affirmed the circuit court's order and denied the petition on June 25, 2009. The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari. On April 17, 2012, Chavez filed a successor motion for post-conviction relief under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850. The circuit court denied the motion on June 13, 2012. On July 20, 2012, Chavez appealed the denial to the Florida Supreme Court, which affirmed the denial on October 11, 2013.
On January 2, 2014, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed Chavez' death warrant. Chavez, age 46, was executed by lethal injection on February 12, 2014, at 8:17 p.m. at the Florida State Prison in Starke, just over a month before his 47th birthday.