JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — 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 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 with a sheet around his neck at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County, east of Jackson. Alexander said he was trying to gather more information and would comment later.
Rankin County Coroner Jimmy Roberts said an autopsy was being performed Thursday. Prison officials announced the death in a news release, calling it a “possible suicide.” They would not 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 grand jury early this year.
Manieri had been 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. After stopping at a hotel in Mobile, Ala., they headed for Disney, where Manieri bought passes to the park. They planned to get an early start at the theme park the next day, but Manieri was arrested when he walked outside the 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 that the two then ate lunch at the Silver Slipper casino. He claimed they got drunk and high and he passed out and that when he woke up, Everitt was fondling him.
Manieri claimed 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.
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.
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 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.