JACKSON, Miss. – A Catholic priest who police believe was killed with his own pistol traveled with the gun for protection and kept it in the bedroom of the Mississippi beach house where he was shot, a colleague said Wednesday.
A fellow cleric said the 70-year-old Rev. Edward E. Everitt usually went alone on weekend getaways to Waveland, the quiet town on the Mississippi Gulf Coast where his body was found Monday. A convicted felon who worked on the house is suspected of killing the Louisiana priest, then taking his car to Florida for a Disney vacation.
"He carried a gun for his own safety because he would be over there by himself," the Rev. Cayet Mangiaracina said of Everitt's .380 caliber pistol. "He kept it in his car, and then over there he kept it by his bed."
It's not clear how much Everitt knew about the past of the man who did odd jobs for him. Jeremy Wayne Manieri, 31, has a long criminal record, but served short sentences for crimes that include a conviction for molesting a child, authorities said Wednesday.
Manieri had a court appearance Wednesday in Florida and waived extradition to Mississippi, meaning he agreed to return to face charges there.
Polk County, Fla., Sheriff Grady Judd told The Associated Press that Manieri gave a detailed confession. But Judd declined to elaborate because "it's a Mississippi case."
Authorities say Manieri robbed Everitt then used his stolen car and money to take his ex-wife, his 10-year-old stepson and his 5-year-old daughter to Florida with the intention of going to Disney World. A swat team arrested Manieri early Tuesday at a Days Inn in Polk County after police tracked him down using the anti-theft device on the priest's car.
Manieri was being held on an auto theft warrant from Escambia County, Fla.
Peter Mills, assistant public defender in Florida's 10th Judicial Circuit, said attorney-client privilege prohibits him from commenting on discussions he had with Manieri.
When asked if Manieri was guilty of the crime he's accused of, Mills said, "He's not guilty now."
"I believe that he hasn't even been charged," Mills said. "It was just an arrest warrant."
Waveland Police Chief James Varnell said Wednesday that he's in contact with Florida officials about bringing Manieri back to face a murder charge.
Judd, the Florida sheriff, said he believes Manieri used Everitt's own weapon to kill him, though Mississippi authorities want to test it to be certain.
Varnell said Manieri has a long criminal record, but somehow ended up serving short sentences for serious crimes. Varnell said he was "very much" disappointed in 2006 when Manieri pleaded guilty to molesting a girl, and received what Varnell considered a light sentence.
Former Circuit Court Judge Stephen Simpson suspended a year of the two-year sentence and also gave Manieri credit for time served, according to court records in the case. He was required to register as a sex offender.
Simpson said prosecutors reached a plea agreement in the case, so he didn't have access to the evidence and based the sentence on the prosecuting attorney's recommendation.
"I was given no reason by the prosecution to believe that the sentence requested by the Prosecuting Attorney was not just," Simpson said in an email.
In August 2009, Manieri was indicted for failing to register as a sex offender. He faced a five-year sentence on that charge. He pleaded guilty in February of this year.
Circuit Judge John C. Gargiulo gave him a five-year suspended sentence after he served had served about 16 months before his conviction, according to court records. He was given three years of probation.
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.
The house where Everitt died was used as a weekend retreat. Hancock County officials said it was registered to Holy Ghost Dominican Fathers Inc., a nonprofit corporation registered in Louisiana. Police say Manieri did odd jobs around the house.
Mangiaracina and Everitt are both listed as registered agents for the corporation, along with the Rev. Henry "Hank" Groover.
Mangiaracina said he only went to the house once and did not know Manieri, though he had heard Everitt and Groover talk about him doing work there. He said Groover and Everitt used the house more often than he did, though usually not at the same time because they had different days off.
"I think they were trying to help him out and he did some work there," Mangiaracina said. "As far as his past, I don't know how much they knew about that."
Groover could not immediately be reached for comment. He had also been a priest in Louisiana until March when news reports revealed he had been charged with sexual battery in Savannah, Ga., in 2003, according to the Rev. Christopher Eggleton. Eggleton would not provide contact information for Groover.
Groover took a "no plea" to the reduced charge of disorderly conduct in Georgia, which means he didn't plead innocent or guilty and paid a $250 fine, said Donna Boles, customer service representative for the Chatham County, Ga., Recorders Court.
Groover is the brother-in-law of celebrity chef Paula Deen. He did not immediately respond to questions sent to one of Deen's representatives.
Authorities say Manieri took the priest's silver Chevy HHR, picked up his ex-wife and kids and headed for a motel in Mobile, Ala.
Judd said they drove to a Days Inn in Polk County on Monday evening and bought Disney passes with the priest's cash. Manieri was arrested by a swat team when he stepped outside the hotel room for a smoke.
Varnell, the Waveland police chief, said it's early in the investigation and it's not clear if the woman with Manieri when he was arrested would face charges.