Monday, December 11, 2017
News Roundup

Killer of Palm Harbor girl is hours from execution

STARKE — Larry Eugene Mann, who abducted and killed 10-year-old Elisa Nelson in 1980 in Palm Harbor, is scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Florida State Prison.

Barring a successful last-minute appeal, Mann will be put to death by lethal injection.

Mann, 59, has been on death row for 32 years for the crime, which ranks among the most notorious and shocking in the history of Pinellas County.

He was 27 when he abducted Elisa as she rode her bicycle to school on Nov. 4, 1980. The blond-haired fifth-grader was late to school that morning, having visited an orthodontist to be fitted for braces. Her mother, Wendy Nelson, wrote a note excusing her daughter's tardiness before Elisa pedaled off about 10:30 a.m.

The same day, authorities were called to Mann's home when he attempted suicide by slashing his forearms with a razor blade. He told responding officers that he had "done something stupid."

But it wasn't until four days later that he was linked to the girl's death. That's when Mann asked his wife, Donna, to retrieve a pair of glasses from his 1957 Chevrolet pickup. Inside, she found the note that Nelson's mother had written to excuse her from school. It was stained with blood.

Donna Mann told a friend about the note. The friend told police, who got a search warrant for Mann's property. In the truck, they found blood stains that matched Elisa's blood type.

In trying to explain the reason for what happened, a psychiatrist testified that Mann suffered from pedophilia. Because of his condition, Mann loathed himself and anyone who might learn of his flaw, including his victims, the doctor testified.

Prosecutors theorized that Mann abducted Elisa with the intention of molesting her, but he was able to resist and abandoned his efforts. When Elisa tried to get away, Mann killed her. He cut her throat and hit her in the head with a pipe. An autopsy on her body, found in an orange grove the day after she went missing, showed no signs of molestation.

It wasn't the first time Mann had been accused of a sexually motivated crime. As a child, he was charged with taking a 7-year-old girl from a church parking lot and sexually assaulting her. At his murder trial in 1981, a woman from Mann's native Mississippi testified about an incident from eight years earlier in which Mann broke into her apartment, where she was babysitting a 1-year-old boy. He grabbed her by the neck and threatened to harm the boy if she didn't "give me what I want." He forced the woman into a sex act.

A jury sentenced Mann to death in April 1981, but legal errors caused him to be resentenced twice — in 1983 and 1990. Both times, juries again recommended death.

Lengthy appeals kept Mann on death row for 32 years.

On March 1, Gov. Rick Scott signed his death warrant.

Earlier this week, Mann's attorneys filed a last-minute appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking for a stay of execution. Lower courts have previously declined to hear the case.

Mann had a last meal of fried shrimp, fish and scallops, stuffed crabs, hot butter rolls, cole slaw, a pint of pistachio ice cream and Pepsi — which he ate about 10 a.m. He met with a spiritual adviser and two attorneys, Department of Corrections officials said.

Officials described his mood as serious and somber.

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