January 27, 2012 11:33:00 AM
By HOLBROOK MOHR
JACKSON -- A man accused of killing a Roman Catholic priest and taking the victim's car on a family vacation to Walt Disney World was found dead early Thursday in a prison cell with a sheet wrapped around his neck.
Jeremy Wayne Manieri, 33, was charged with shooting the Rev. Ed Everitt of Hammond, La., in July 2011 at a beach house in Waveland, Miss.
Manieri's attorney, Brian Alexander, said he was told that Manieri was found in his cell at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County, east of Jackson.
Rankin County Coroner Jimmy Roberts said an autopsy was being performed Thursday. Prison officials called it a "possible suicide" and wouldn't comment further.
Manieri was being held in the sprawling prison on a five-year sentence for a probation violation related to a sex offense. Prosecutors had been expected to present evidence in Everitt's death to a grand jury this year.
Hancock County District Attorney Joel Smith said in a statement that he would have preferred for justice to be served through the court system, "but that is no longer an option."
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to Father Ed, his family and parishioners," Smith said.
Manieri was accused of killing Everitt, better known to parishioners in Louisiana as Father Ed, at a beach house that priests used as a retreat. Manieri was a handy man who did construction jobs around the house.
Police say Manieri shot the 70-year-old Everitt, then picked up his ex-wife and kids in Everitt's silver Chevy HHR and set out for Florida. They planned to get an early start at the theme park the next day, but Manieri was arrested when he walked outside his hotel near Winter Haven, Fla., to have a cigarette.
Authorities say Manieri gave a detailed confession to investigators in Florida, but stopped cooperating by the time he returned to Mississippi.
Manieri allegedly told Florida authorities that Everitt picked him up the day of the slaying and they ate lunch at the Silver Slipper casino. He claimed they got drunk and high on marijuana and he passed out. He claimed when he woke up, Everitt was fondling him.
Manieri told police he went outside to smoke a cigarette, then went to the bedroom and got Everitt's .380-caliber pistol and shot the cleric twice in the head.
Authorities have said preliminary tests found marijuana in the priest's system, but the results of more reliable toxicology tests have not been made public.
Investigators said robbery was the motive and that Manieri was caught with Everitt's car, gun and wallet.
Manieri's mother was grieving Thursday and said she would comment later. His sister, JoEllen Manieri Maslow, told The Associated Press in July he was full of contradictions, but not violent in the past. She said her brother's troubles started in junior high when he began hanging out with bad crowd and later using drugs.
"I know that people want to see him as this monster, but he wasn't that way. He may have done a horrible thing -- if he did do it -- but he's not this horrible monster," she said.
Everitt was a pastor at Holy Ghost Church in Hammond, La., and Our Lady of Pompeii Church in nearby Tickfaw, about 50 miles northwest of Louisiana. The church is a member of the Dominican Order and also operates a school in the community about 50 miles northwest of New Orleans. Everitt, a native of Houston, has been with the order since 1962 and a priest since 1968.
As a religious order, Dominicans do not fall under the system of Catholic dioceses and archdioceses but instead under a system of provinces under the direction of a master of the order in Rome.
Father David Caron, the vicar provincial for the Dominican Order in the South, called the situation "tragedy upon tragedy."
"Any time there's a tragedy, we bring tragedy to prayer," Caron said Thursday in a telephone interview.
Manieri was a convicted sex offender who could have been in prison at the time of Everitt's death if not for what authorities have described as a computer "glitch."
Manieri pleaded guilty to molesting a girl in 2006. He was sentenced to two years, but one year was suspended and he was given credit for time served. But he failed to register as a sex offender and was sentenced to another 16 months. He was put on probation when he was released but never met with his probation officer. He could have been in prison for that at the time the priest was killed, but it went unnoticed. The state corrections agency blamed the oversight on a computer system glitch.
After his arrest in Everitt's killing, he was charged with a probation violation for not meeting with the probation officer and sentenced to five years in prison.
The case received significant attention in Mississippi and beyond. Manieri's image was used in a campaign commercial for Mississippi Attorney General Hood during his successful reelection bid last year. Manieri's lawyer filed a bar complaint against Hood over the commercial, saying Manieri couldn't get a fair trial because the ad referred to him as a cold-blooded killer. Hood, a Democrat, was elected to a third term.