Posted: Aug 19, 2011 8:45 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP
WAVELAND, Miss. (AP) - A judge ruled Thursday there's sufficient evidence for a grand jury to hear the case of a 31-year-old man charged with fatally shooting a 70-year-old Louisiana priest at a Mississippi beach house.
Authorities say Jeremy Wayne Manieri, a convicted sex offender, confessed that he shot the Rev. Edward Everitt twice in the head on July 11, after allegedly passing out from alcohol and drugs and waking up to find the priest fondling him.
During a hearing Thursday, Municipal Judge P.J. Mauffrey in Waveland, Miss., sent the case to a grand jury. It wasn't clear when the grand jury would meet. Grand jury proceedings are secret by design.
Brian Alexander, Manieri's attorney, said people should reserve judgment until all facts in the case are known.
Authorities said Manieri claimed during his alleged confession that he and Everitt were drinking and smoking marijuana before he shot the priest with a pistol he found in Everitt's bedroom at the beach house in Waveland. Authorities say preliminary tests found marijuana in the priest's system, but the results of more reliable toxicology tests have not been made public.
Everitt, better known to his parishioners in Hammond, La., as Father Ed, used the beach house in the quiet Mississippi town as a weekend retreat. Authorities say Manieri did construction jobs around the house.
Police say Manieri shot Everitt with the priest's own .380-caliber pistol, then picked up his ex-wife and kids in Everitt's car and set out for a Disney vacation. Florida authorities arrested Manieri at a hotel near Winter Haven, Fla.
At Thursday's hearing, Alexander asked a detective if police were aware that there were text messages between the priest and Manieri in which the priest gave Manieri permission to borrow his car.
Waveland, Miss., Det. Eddie Peterson said he had subpoenaed the phone records but had not seen them.
Authorities said Manieri went to Florida in Everitt's car and bought passes to the Walt Disney World theme park but was captured before going.
Polk County, Fla., Sheriff Grady Judd said Manieri gave a detailed confession, though Mississippi authorities say he had stopped cooperating by the time Waveland detectives picked him up.
Crosby Parker, assistant district attorney for Hancock County, Miss., said it would be up to the grand jury to decide if Manieri is indicted for murder or capital murder. In Mississippi, capital murder carries the possibility of a death sentence. It is defined as a murder committed during the commission of another felony.
Manieri is charged with murder in the priest's death and grand larceny in the taking of his car.
Everitt was pastor of Holy Ghost Church in Hammond, La., and Our Lady of Pompeii Church in nearby Tickfaw. The Dominicans, a Catholic order that dates to the year 1216, operates the churches and a school in the community about 50 miles northwest of New Orleans.
The Rev. Chris Eggleton, prior provincial of the Southern Dominican Province, which covers 11 southern states, has declined to comment on the allegations.
Everitt, a native of Houston, had been with the order since 1962 and a priest since 1968. An interment for Everitt's cremains will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Friar's Cemetery Columbarium in Rosaryville, La.
"Our faith is in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who St. Dominic and Fr. Ed followed in the midst of their own faith, joy, and human frailty," Eggleton wrote in an Aug. 9 letter posted on the Southern Province website.
Manieri was being held in the Marion County jail on $2 million bond, but he was sentenced last month to five years for violating his probation by failing to register as a sex offender. He's now being held in a state prison in Rankin County, Miss.
He might have been in jail at the time Everitt died if it weren't for a mix-up between the state's prisons and court systems.
Manieri pleaded guilty to molesting a child in 2006 and was sentenced to two years in prison, with one year suspended. When he got out, he failed to register as a sex offender and wound up serving another 16 months for that before receiving probation in February.
But he never reported to his probation officer, authorities said, a violation that could have sent him back to jail but went unnoticed.
The oversight was blamed on a "glitch in the computer system."