Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

After 32 years, isn't it time for justice?

When memories are all that remain, you keep them within easy reach.

And so, all it takes is a Beach Boys song on the radio to return Wanda Vekasi to some nondescript summer day and the blond-haired girl with a surfer's tan playing in the sand.

Or maybe spotting a little girl with braces, and remembering the T-shirt her niece so desperately wanted to get after her own brush with orthodontics: Tin Grins Are In.

It's been far too many years, and even more tears, since 10-year-old Elisa Nelson was last seen pedaling her blue and silver bicycle toward Palm Harbor Middle School on the same morning Ronald Reagan would go on to defeat Jimmy Carter in the presidential election.

For those who loved her, memories of Elisa are all that live on.

Memories, and the man who killed her.

"It is a slap in the face of David and Wendy Nelson to have this guy still living on death row,'' said Vekasi, who is Wendy Nelson's sister and Elisa's aunt. "Not a day has gone by that I haven't thought about Lisa, and that man still living at our expense.

"I can't imagine what it's been like for David and Wendy having lived through this for almost 33 years, and still waiting for his sentence to be carried out.''

If it is any consolation, justice may finally be near.

Gov. Rick Scott recently signed the death warrant for convicted killer Larry Mann, and his execution is scheduled for the early evening of April 10.

This means, in the coming days, there will be lawyers arguing for Mann's rights. They will talk of his remorse. Of the sickness that attracted him to children. Maybe even of the technical details of his trial and the several sentencing hearings that followed.

And there will be little said about a blue-eyed girl with John Travolta posters on her wall, a cat named Smokey and a dog named Stupid.

Elisa Nelson — Lisa to her family and friends — used to tutor a younger, neighborhood boy. She took ballet, played Little League and once phoned in her own donation for a muscular dystrophy telethon.

"Sometimes I try to imagine what (Lisa) would be like,'' Wendy Nelson once told a Washington Post reporter. "But I only ever knew the child.''

Wendy, whom I couldn't reach on Monday, began a victim's rights organization shortly after her daughter's death, and spent years lobbying for an execution perpetually delayed. Former Gov. Bob Graham signed Mann's first death warrant more than 27 years ago.

"I was on the phone with the governor's office today, and the lady said, 'You realize there are going to be appeals right up to the last minute,' '' said Vekasi. "I know how this works, but I'm optimistic it's finally going to happen this time.

"It's time for closure. I once made a vow that I was going to be there to watch his execution, and I intend to keep that promise.''

Of the 404 prisoners on death row, Larry Mann has been around longer than 385 of them. He has been part of the Nelson family's life for 32 years.

Or, to put it another way, their daughter's killer has occupied their thoughts for three times as long as they had Lisa in their lives.

In what world does that seem just?

After 32 years, isn't it time for justice? 03/04/13 [Last modified: Monday, March 4, 2013 8:01pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. After fraught debate, Trump to disclose new Afghanistan plan


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will unveil his updated Afghanistan policy Monday night in a rare, prime-time address to a nation that broadly shares his pessimism about American involvement in the 16-year conflict. Although he may send a few thousand more troops, there are no signs of a major shift in …

    U.S. soldiers patrol the perimeter of a weapons cache near the U.S. military base in Bagram, Afghanistan in 2003. Sixteen years of U.S. warfare in Afghanistan have left the insurgents as strong as ever and the nation's future precarious. Facing a quagmire, President Donald Trump on Monday will outline his strategy for a country that has historically snared great powers and defied easy solutions.  [Associated Press (2003)]
  2. Trial begins for man accused of threatening to kill Tampa federal judge


    TAMPA — Jason Jerome Springer was in jail awaiting trial on a firearms charge when he heard inmates talking about a case that had made the news.

    Jason Jerome Springer, 39, is accused of threatening to kill a U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich, according to a federal indictment.  |Hernando County Sheriff's Office photo]
  3. Editorial: Tampa Electric customers should not pay for utility's fatal misjudgments


    There will be financial fallout from the terrible miscalculations that resulted in five workers being killed in June at Tampa Electric's Big Bend Power Station. State and federal regulators should ensure those costs are borne by the company's shareholders, not its customers. Monetary considerations will not begin to …

    LUIS SANTANA   |   Times
There will be financial fallout from the terrible miscalculations that resulted in five workers being killed in June at Tampa Electric's Big Bend Power Station. State and federal regulators should ensure those costs are borne by the company's shareholders, not its customers.
  4. Superior Uniform acquires Los Angeles-based PublicIdentity


    SEMINOLE — A subsidiary of Seminole-based Superior Uniform Group has acquired Los Angeles-based branded merchandise company PublicIdentity Inc.

    Superior Uniform Group CEO Michael Benstock
[Courtesy of Superior Uniform Group]
  5. Money is the issue as Hillsborough strains to fix school air conditioners


    TAMPA — With more than 200 repair requests tumbling in every day, school officials in Hillsborough County are broadening their circle of air conditioning mechanics as they struggle to control a debilitating cycle of breakdowns and sweltering classrooms.

    Hillsborough school officials want to expand the number of contractors who work on broken school air conditioning systems. But it all gets rolled into a workload that has increased by 40 percent since 2011. "With no increase in budget, no increase in equipment and no increase in manpower, and as the equipment gets older and needs more maintenance, this is going to continue to grow," said Robert Weggman, general manager of maintenance." [