WAVELAND, Miss. (AP) — An attorney for a 31-year-old man accused of killing a Catholic priest said his client did not know the man was a cleric.
Brian Alexander, attorney for Jeremy Wayne Manieri, said after meeting with his client for the first time on Thursday that he believes there is more to the story than a robbery and killing.
Manieri appeared in Municipal Court in Waveland on Thursday morning, where a judge set a $2 million bond on a murder charge and a $50,000 bond on a grand larceny charge.
Manieri is accused of shooting to death the Rev. Edward Everitt, 70, on July 11, stealing his gun and car, and fleeing to Florida where he was captured the next day. He denies the charges. Everitt was pastor of two Louisiana churches.
Alexander would not say what relationship the men had, though a fellow priest and authorities have said Manieri was a handyman who did odd jobs at a Mississippi beach home used as a priests’ retreat.
“My understanding is that he had not known Ed, as he called him, very long. In fact he was not aware he was a priest,” Alexander said.
“I think it’s going to be borne out by the evidence that he did not do anything that an average person would not have done,” Alexander said.
He would not elaborate.
Alexander said Manieri was introduced to Everitt by another priest, Henry “Hank” Groover. Groover was suspended from his priestly duties earlier this year at the same church where Everitt was pastor in Hammond, La., after revelations he was arrested in a sex sting in Georgia in 2003.
Groover could not immediately be contacted for comment. Church officials have refused to provide information on his whereabouts.
Groover is the brother-in-law of celebrity chef Paula Deen. A representative for Deen offered to forward to Groover questions from The Associated Press about the matter but he has not responded.
As Manieri was escorted into court on Thursday for an initial hearing, an Associated Press reporter asked if he did what he is accused of.
Manieri, who wore a bulletproof vest over his orange prison jumpsuit, answered, “No, sir.”
He did not respond when asked how he knew Everitt
During the hearing, Judge P.J. Mauffray set bond. Manieri did not enter a plea. He answered “Yes, sir,” when the judge asked if he understood the charges against him.
Mauffray scheduled a preliminary hearing Aug. 18.
Manieri was arrested at a hotel near Winter Haven, Fla., the day after Everitt’s body was found. Police said he had bought three-day passes to Walt Disney World for his ex-wife, his stepson and daughter, but was arrested before he could leave for the park.
Authorities say Everett, pastor at Holy Ghost Church in Hammond, and Our Lady of Pompeii Church in nearby Tickfaw, was shot with his own .380-caliber pistol. Manieri then allegedly picked up his ex-wife and children in Everitt’s car and set out for the Disney vacation.
Everitt, a native of Houston, had been with the Dominican order since 1962 and a priest since 1968. The order operates Holy Ghost Church and a school in the community about 50 miles northwest of New Orleans.
Hundreds turned out Saturday for Everitt’s funeral Mass.