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Mann executed for murdering 10-year-old Pinellas girl

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Published:   |   Updated: April 11, 2013 at 09:17 AM

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STARKE -

Larry Eugene Mann was executed Wednesday night for the 1980 murder of 10-year-old Elisa Nelson of Palm Harbor.

Mann's death ended a 32-year quest for justice that has tormented her family.

“Thank God it's over,” said Katy DeCarolis, Elisa's cousin.

Mann, one of the longest-serving inmates on Florida's death row, was put to death by lethal injection and pronounced dead at 7:19 p.m. at Florida State Prison in Starke, according to Melissa Sellers, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott's office.

The condemned man answered “Uh, uh, no sir,” when asked if he had any last words before the procedure began.

Mann's final written statement, released by the state Department of Corrections about an hour after his death, was a Bible verse, Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

There were 28 witnesses to the execution, including media and corrections personnel, and a group of Elisa's relatives sat in the front row wearing buttons with her photo on them.

The family sent out a statement, also through the Department of Corrections, written by Elisa's brother, Jeff Nelson.

“It is glaringly apparent that there is something fundamentally flawed with a justice system that takes over 32 years to bring to justice a pedophile who confessed to kidnapping and murdering a 10-year-old-girl,” the statement reads.

“There are no winners here. His death does not bring Elisa back, nor does it end our sorrow, but we will no longer be tortured by his defense attorneys' endless legal wrangling.”

“Larry Mann alone made the decisions that dragged us all into this hell,” Nelson writes toward the end of the five-page statement, which includes colorful photos of Elisa with family, playing baseball and cheerleading – a few of the things she loved.

“We certainly did not ask to be a part it. He alone set in motion the wheels of his own destruction. The world is now a better place without him.”

The death sentence was carried out more than an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court denied Mann's latest appeal.

Mann's lawyers appealed to the high court on Monday, arguing that his death sentence should be overturned because the jury that recommended it wasn't unanimous. They also argued that Mann's constitutional rights were violated because Scott used a secret and standardless process before signing his death warrant.

Shortly before the 59-year-old former oil well driller from Dunedin was scheduled to be executed, roughly a dozen people gathered at an anti-death penalty vigil at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg.

People sang hymns, listened to readings and prayed – that the killer's life would be spared.

Outside the prison, there were 43 people gathered in favor of the execution and, in a separate area, 38 people were protesting the death penalty.

In 1981, Mann was convicted of killing Elisa, who was last seen riding her bike to Palm Harbor Middle School on Nov. 4, 1980. She had a note in her pocket explaining she was late because of a dentist appointment.

Mann kidnapped her near the school, took her to an orange grove, cut her throat and then beat her head with a pipe that had a concrete base attached to it. Then he went home and tried to kill himself, later telling police officers he had “done something stupid.”

On Nov. 8, Mann's wife was getting his glasses out of his pickup and found the note Elisa's mother had written. It had blood stains on it.

Last week, the state Supreme Court unanimously rejected the argument that Mann shouldn't be executed because the jury that recommended the death sentence wasn't unanimous.

Mann's 1981 death sentence was overturned once because the trial court made a legal error. He was resentenced to death, and the Supreme Court then affirmed that punishment.

Former Gov. Bob Graham signed Mann's first death warrant in 1986, after which he filed numerals appeals in state and federal court.

Elisa's murder wasn't Mann's first brush with the law. He molested a 7-year-old girl several years before Elisa's death, prosecutors said. And at the time of Elisa's murder, he was on parole for a 1973 rape in Mississippi, where he told his victim if she didn't comply with his sexual demands, he'd “get what he wanted” from an 18-month-old baby in the next room.

At the prayer service at the Cathedral of St. Jude, St. Petersburg Bishop Robert Lynch asked people at the prayer service to take a moment and pray for the Nelson family. Then he spoke out against the death penalty.

“We take as articles of faith that even one who has fully violated the Fifth Commandment, 'Thou shalt not kill,' should have their life taken by anyone other than the author of all life, the lord God,” he said.

“After over 200 years of the exercise of the death penalty in this nation that we love, there is still no valid evidence that it reduces crime, that murders diminish and that the people live in a greater security.”

“That same heart and mind which abhors the horror of abortion should logically abhor the state deciding who it is who will live and who will die,” the bishop told the group, which had grown to 21 by the end of the half-hour prayer vigil.

Of the more than 400 inmates on Florida's death row, 25 were convicted in Pinellas and 25 in Hillsborough County. More than a dozen of the inmates on death row have been there longer than Mann.

Mann ate fried shrimp, fish and scallops, stuffed crabs, cole slaw, hot buttered rolls, a pint of pistachio ice cream and drank Pepsi for his last meal, according to the state Department of Corrections. He ate everything.

A spiritual advisor and two attorneys were the last people to visit him.

Mann was calm and somber in the hours leading up to his execution, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Ann Howard.


sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7604

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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