ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) - Running late on a fall morning three decades ago, 10-year-old Elisa Vera Nelson set off on her bike for school in a Tampa suburb, carrying a note from her mother explaining she had been at the dentist.
She never made it. Court records say a convicted sex offender, Larry Eugene Mann, kidnapped her, took her to an orange grove, cut her throat and then beat her head with a pole with a concrete base. He then went home and tried to kill himself, telling the responding police officers he had "done something stupid." They thought he was referring to his suicide attempt until his wife found Elisa's bloodied note inside his truck a couple of days later.
Mann, now 59, is scheduled to be executed Wednesday for Elisa's killing on Nov. 4, 1980, barring a last-minute injunction from the courts. His attorneys filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday. Other appeals are pending in state court.
The immediacy of Mann's pending execution has rekindled painful memories for members of Elisa's family.
"It brought everything back like it was yesterday," said her aunt Wanda Vekasi, who still lives in the same county where her niece was killed. "I find myself crying a lot. I'm looking forward very much to Wednesday."
Vekasi described Elisa - who would have been 42 this year - as a "gorgeous little girl."
"She was what every parent would want in a little girl," Vekasi said. "Smart, very giving."
Still, Vekasi is worried that a last-minute appeal could stall the execution.
"It's been 32 years, and people say, oh you know, closure. There's never closure," she said. "But at least my tax dollars will no longer be supporting that creep."
Since Mann's March 1981 murder conviction, his case has churned through the courts. His first two death sentences were vacated, once by the state Supreme Court and once by a federal appellate court. In 1990, Mann was sentenced to death a third time.
That sentence was upheld by Florida's high court two years later. In 1998, a trial judge rejected Mann's latest appeal.
Mann's attorney, Marie-Louise Samuels-Parker, said one of his appeals involves challenging the state's lethal injection procedures. Another appeal says Mann's due process was violated because "members of the victim's family sent fliers and letters to the community urging people to attend the trial to ensure that the judge and jury sentenced Mann to death" - and that two jurors saw the letters.
The motion also said that spectators at Mann's trial "laughed at and heckled defense witnesses."
On Friday, Samuels-Parker asked the state Supreme Court to halt the execution, arguing that the Eighth Amendment requires a "principled" way to determine who is executed and who isn't. The lawyer called Gov. Rick Scott's decision to sign Mann's warrant "arbitrary and capricious" and argued the process of selecting who is executed is unconstitutional.
In one recent appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, Mann's lawyers made several arguments, including that Florida's sentencing system "violates evolving standards of decency" because it lets jurors recommend a death sentence by a simple majority vote and does not require them to be unanimous.
The Supreme Court, in a 6-0 opinion, disagreed with that appeal and found Mann's arguments "without merit." Justice Peggy Quince was recused from the case.
Mississippi officials had investigated whether Mann was linked to the slayings of two teenage girls in that state in the 1970s. However, Pascagoula Detective Darren Versiga said Monday that police concluded Mann didn't have anything to do with those slayings.
Mann had been convicted of sexually assaulting a woman in Pascagoula in 1973.
In the wake of her daughter's death, Wendy Nelson formed a victims' advocacy group and even demonstrated at the state prison in Starke during other executions to provide a counterpoint to anti-death penalty protesters. She also lobbied lawmakers in an attempt to change the appeals process to 18 months.
In a September 1984 story about her efforts, Nelson told the now-defunct Evening Independent that she would not attend Mann's execution because it was too personal.
"I want him to pay. I want him to pay," she told the newspaper. "I don't think that him sacrificing his life in any way begins to make up for the life that was lost."
It's unclear whether Wendy Nelson will attend Wednesday's execution; she could not be reached for comment.
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