By Amber Swal – WUFT contributor
For nearly an hour and a half Wednesday night, a group of people stood outside the Florida State Prison in Raiford, their hands to their brows, as they waited for Larry Eugene Mann’s hearse.
In 1981, Mann was convicted of killing 10-year-old Elisa Vera Nelson in Palm Harbor. He was scheduled to die at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
As the crowd awaited word on Mann’s fate, opponents of the death penalty standing across the street from the prison began striking a bell with the words on it: “The Death Penalty. What Would Jesus Do?” They sang, “May Christ who called you take him home.”
At 7:19 p.m., a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott’s office pronounced Mann, 59, dead by lethal injection. The U.S. Supreme Court had denied his last appeal.
Shortly after, witnesses to the execution rode past the group waiting outside and signaled “thumbs up” to opponents and supporters – who, at that point, began to wonder if something had gone wrong waiting word more than an hour after the appointed time of his execution.
According to reports in the media at the time, Mann was sentenced to death in 1981, but after legal errors, he was resentenced in 1983. Then again in 1990.
The morning of Nov. 4, 1980, he abducted Elisa as she rode her bicycle to Palm Harbor Middle School. She was going to be late that day because she had a dental appointment.
Her body was found in an orange grove the next day.
Mann had cut her throat and hit her in the head with a pipe covered in concrete. She died of the blow to the head.
The autopsy showed no signs of molestation. Mann was previously convicted of sexually assaulting a 7-year-old. It is believed that was his intent with Elisa.
“What was she thinking as she lay there defenseless on the ground with the life running out of her?” said her brother, Jeff Nelson, in a statement to the media after the execution. “How terrified must this little girl have been? Could she see that this monster was about to crush her child-size skull because she wouldn’t die?”
Mann’s attorney, Marie-Louise Parmer, said Mann was “ready” when he died.
On his last day, he awoke at 6 a.m. and had fried shrimp, fish, scallops, stuffed crabs, coleslaw, hot buttered roles, a pint of pistachio ice cream and Pepsi at 10 a.m. He ate all of it, said Ann Howard, communications director for the Florida Department of Corrections.
Marki, a friend of the Nelson’s who declined to give her last name, said she began to get nervous when the execution took longer than expected. She said from ages 11 to 12, she was repeatedly the victim of a pedophile. She hoped to see Elisa’s family get some closure from Mann’s execution.
“It’s been 32 years, and the Nelsons have gone through hell knowing that their daughter is never going to be older than 10, that she was brutally murdered, and she wasn’t his first victim,” Marki said.
She said he should have died a long time ago.
Judy and Jim Knouff, both 71, said they hope Mann accepted Jesus and salvation.
Judy Knouff said the woman with the sign that read, “1 Wrong + 1 Wrong = 2 Wrongs. Never 1 Right” captured their feelings perfectly.
Mann’s last written words were, “For the wage of sin is death: but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23.” He signed and dated the letter.
Nelson said he and his family hear Mann is a changed man, adding that Mann was given an opportunity to speak final words but did not.
“We question whether he was really remorseful,” Nelson said.
He outlined the milestones Elisa never reached.
“Her ‘Sweet 16’ party that she never got to have, her first homecoming and prom dates that never happened, her would-have-been high school and college graduations. Those days came and passed. It was uncomfortably silent. My mother never got to help her plan her wedding. My father never got to walk her down the aisle.”
He said the execution brought tremendous relief, not because the family will ever stop feeling the pain of losing Elisa but because now the legal wranglings are over.
“Somebody told me just a few moments ago that today was National Sibling Day. I never expected – I never even heard of that holiday, but I certainly never expected to spend it like this,” Nelson said.