JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A man accused of killing a Catholic priest and stealing his car and money before fleeing to Florida has been returned to Mississippi and is expected in court on Thursday.
Jeremy Wayne Manieri is accused in the shooting death and robbery of the Rev. Edward E. Everitt, a parish priest from Hammond, La. The 70-year-old Everitt’s body was found July 11 at a beach front home in Waveland on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Florida authorities arrested the 31-year-old Manieri the next day at a hotel near Winter Haven. Officers said he’d bought passes to the Walt Disney World theme park but was captured before getting there.
Manieri was returned Tuesday night and was taken to the Hancock County jail after booking. He’s expected to appear Thursday in Waveland Municipal Court.
Manieri had troubles with the law before. Records show he served time for forgery and child molestation, and was known to use drugs.
But the latest allegations stunned the people who knew him, and left them wondering if he was capable of shooting a priest.
“I only want the truth to come out, even if the truth is that my brother killed this man. You can’t move on without the truth, and you can’t have peace without it,” said Manieri’s sister, JoEllen Manieri Maslow.
Manieri is accused of killing Everitt, better known to parishioners in Louisiana as Father Ed, at a beach house priests used as a retreat.
Authorities say Manieri, 31, shot the priest with the cleric’s own .380 caliber pistol, then picked up his ex-wife and kids in Everitt’s car and set out for the Disney vacation.
Maslow said Manieri’s family didn’t know he was working at the beach house where Everitt’s body was found, and she’s not sure how he met the priest. Authorities say the house is registered to Holy Ghost Dominican Fathers Inc., a nonprofit corporation registered in Louisiana. Everitt is listed as a registered agent, along with two other priests and a lawyer.
Everitt was a pastor at Holy Ghost Church in Hammond, La., and Our Lady of Pompeii Church in nearby Tickfaw. 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, had been with the order since 1962 and a priest since 1968. Hundreds of people turned out Saturday for his funeral Mass.
Maslow said her family is mourning for the priest, too.
As for her brother, Maslow described him as full of contradictions, but not violent in the past.
“He was the kind of person who would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it, but then he would turn around and steel from someone else who had more than he did,” Maslow said.
Maslow said her younger brother was so gentle when he was younger that he wouldn’t hunt, forsaking a popular tradition in the South, because he didn’t want to kill animals. As a kid, he was the kind of boy who would find a spider in the house and take it outside rather than kill it.
“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.
Manieri’s life began to change when he was in junior high, his sister says, but she isn’t sure why. He began hanging out with a bad crowd. They were caught vandalizing a house. Before long, he was doing drugs, she said.
Manieri pleaded guilty to molesting a child in 2006. Maslow said her family has had serious doubts about the validity of the sex abuse accusations, and the judge and prosecutor involved also said there were problems with the case. Manieri took a plea deal and was sentenced to two years, with one year suspended.
The sentence has been criticized as too lenient by many people, including Waveland Police Chief James Varnell, and some people believe Everitt would still be alive if Manieri had gotten stiffer sentences for his past crimes.
Maslow said she distanced herself from her brother over the years because of the life he chose, but she still loves him.