Last Wednesday, at 4:00 p.m., cop killer Manuel Adriano Valle, was strapped to a gurnee at the Florida State Prison in Starke. He was injected with three drugs: one to knock him unconscious, another to paralyze him and a third to stop his heart.
Jeneane Skeen watched from a one way mirror in the execution chamber. Valle killed her father, Coral Gables Police Officer Louis Pena, 33 years ago. For decades, she and her family pleaded for justice. They wrote to six governors to sign Valle’s death warrant. Gov. Rick Scott finally did 12 weeks ago, his first execution. “We’re tired of waiting,” Skeen said. “We want my father’s justice to be done. He gave his life doing his job.” Officer Pena left behind three other children as well, along with his second wife.
Pena’s mother had bought him a bulletproof vest and begged him to wear it. He often didn’t. It wouldn’t have made a difference three hours into his patrol shift one Sunday afternoon when he pulled over a dark brown Chevrolet Camaro for running a red light.
The driver of the Camaro was 27-year-old Valle. He had a friend in the passenger seat. Valle got out of the car so Pena could check his driver’s license and plates. Valle was scared. He was in violation of his probation. He had served jail time for a string of burglaries and thefts. He was wanted for allegedly trying to run a Sweetwater cop over after a traffic stop two years earlier.
The Camaro was stolen. The driver’s license belonged to someone else. But Pena did not know that. The county’s computer used to check licenses was down. The Camaro’s tags came up as registered to a Toyota, yet the Camaro was not reported stolen.
Pena called for backup and lit a cigarette while he sat in his patrol car; Abraham, the German shepherd, was caged in the backseat. Pena was about to let Valle go when Valle, standing next to the patrol car, asked if he could walk back to the Camaro to get a cigarette himself.
Pena said yes. Valle returned with a hidden .380-caliber automatic pistol. It was twilight on April 2, 1978. Pena was 41 years old.
At 6:44 p.m., a Gables police dispatcher received a call from a barely audible officer, a dog’s frantic barking in the background.
“I’m shot,” Pena gasped into the radio. “I’m shot. I’m shot.”
Pena was shot in the neck. After 20 minutes, he drowned in his own blood. Abraham snapped his snout at paramedics who arrived to pull Pena’s body out of the patrol car. They distracted the police dog to reach the slain officer. Doctors at Coral Gables Hospital tried to revive Pena for more than an hour.
After fatally injuring Pena, Valle, still standing, shot backup Officer Gary Spell in the back. Spell, sitting in his patrol car next to Pena’s, was saved by a bulletproof vest.
Two days later, a Deerfield Beach police officer patrolling the beachfront spotted Valle and arrested him. In his light blue flight bag was a .380-caliber automatic pistol, the same kind used to kill Pena.
Then began Valle’s decades-long journey through the legal system. In his first trial, Valle was convicted for first-degree murder and sentenced to death. The Florida Supreme Court ordered a new trial, ruling that a tough-love judge didn’t give Valle’s attorneys enough time — 24 days — to prepare an adequate defense. He was sentenced to the death penalty again in two more trials, sought numerous appeals and, finally, sought clemency from the governor.
My commentary: Regardless of how you feel about the death penalty, I think it is shocking that Valle was tried and sentenced to death in three trials, had numerous appeals after the third sentencing and then a final clemency appeal to the governer. 33 years is a long time for the justice system to do its job, regardless of the outcome. The family of the slain officer deserved some type of closure long ago.