Florida executed one of the longest-serving inmates on its death row Wednesday evening, 32 years after he kidnapped and murdered a 10-year-old girl who was riding her bike to school after a dentist put on her braces.
Larry Eugene Mann was put to death by lethal injection for kidnapping and murdering Elisa Vera Nelson on Nov. 4, 1980. Melissa Sellers, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott's office, said Mann was pronounced dead at 7:19 p.m. at the Florida State Prison in Starke. He was 59.
The death sentence was carried out more than an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court denied Mann's latest appeal. The condemned man answered "Uh, no sir," when asked if he had any last words before the procedure began. 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.
Afterward, Elisa's family was joined by a group of friends and family as her brother, Jeff Nelson, read a statement describing his sister as a "bright, funny, caring, beautiful little girl" who loved to play baseball and pretend to be a school teacher. He said she was a Girl Scout who would take in stray pets and donated money she earned to charity. She was a cheerleader who loved to dance and sing.
Then he described in horrifying detail how she died, saying Mann abducted her less than 100 yards from her school in Pinellas County. He said his sister fought hard, and Mann beat her, sending blood and hair throughout his pickup truck, as well as the note his mother wrote excusing Elisa from being late to school. He described how Mann pulled over into an abandoned orange grove, slit her throat twice, and then bludgeoned her head with a pipe with a cement base.
He paused from the written statement to add, "We just watched that same man slip into a very peaceful sleep. That's a far cry from how my sister passed."
Earlier, Nelson's wife Debbie grasped his arm as Mann's sentence was carried out. Asked by the execution team leader if he had any final words, Mann said, "Uh,no sir."
Elisa's parents, David and Wendy Nelson, watched in silence. Her father kept his arms cross as he stared at Mann, who kept his eyes closed except for a brief moment throughout the procedure.
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 1980, Mann tried killing himself immediately after the girl's slaying, slashing his wrists and telling responding police officers he had "done something stupid." They thought he was talking about the suicide attempt until a couple of days later when Mann's wife found the bloodied note Elisa's mother wrote.
While Mann sought to die the day he killed Elisa, his lawyers had succeeded in keeping him alive for decades through scores of appeals. His lawyers didn't contest his guilt during appeals, but rather whether he had been properly sentenced to death.
Jeff Nelson criticized the justice system for making his family wait so long.
"Elisa was only in our lives for less than 3,800 days and this pedophile and his lawyers have spent nearly 12,000 days — over three times her entire life — making a mockery of our legal system," he said.
Of the 406 inmates on death row in Florida, only 28 had been there longer than Mann.
Mann woke up at 6 a.m. and had his final meal at 10 a.m, including fried shrimp, fish and scallops, stuffed crabs, ice cream and a soda. His only visitors were his two lawyers and a spiritual adviser. His mood was calm and somber in the hours leading up to the execution time, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Ann Howard.
While Mann didn't make a last statement in the death chamber, he did ask that "last words" be handed out after the execution. He chose a Bible verse.
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord," Mann wrote out by hand.
Elisa's brother said the family has had to hear over the years that Mann would kneel in prayer while in prison and express remorse for his crime.
"He just had his chance to say something and he didn't say anything," Nelson said. "We question whether he was really remorseful."
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