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April 13, 2013

Florida (finally!!) carries out sentence for child killer who murdered during Carter Administration

As reported in this AP article, "Florida executed one of the longest-serving inmates on its death row Wednesday evening, 32 years after he kidnapped and murdered a 10-year-old girl who was riding her bike to school after a dentist put on her braces."  Here is more of the story:

Larry Eugene Mann was put to death by lethal injection for kidnapping and murdering Elisa Vera Nelson on Nov. 4, 1980.  Melissa Sellers, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott's office, said Mann was pronounced dead at 7:19 p.m. at the Florida State Prison in Starke.  He was 59.

The death sentence was carried out more than an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court denied Mann's latest appeal.  The condemned man answered "Uh, no sir," when asked if he had any last words before the procedure began.  There were 28 witnesses to the execution, including media and corrections personnel, and a group of Elisa's relatives sat in the front row wearing buttons with her photo on them.

Afterward, Elisa's family was joined by a group of friends and family as her brother, Jeff Nelson, read a statement describing his sister as a "bright, funny, caring, beautiful little girl" who loved to play baseball and pretend to be a school teacher.  He said she was a Girl Scout who would take in stray pets and donated money she earned to charity.  She was a cheerleader who loved to dance and sing.

Then he described in horrifying detail how she died, saying Mann abducted her less than 100 yards from her school in Pinellas County.  He said his sister fought hard, and Mann beat her, sending blood and hair throughout his pickup truck, as well as the note his mother wrote excusing Elisa from being late to school.  He described how Mann pulled over into an abandoned orange grove, slit her throat twice, and then bludgeoned her head with a pipe with a cement base.

He paused from the written statement to add, "We just watched that same man slip into a very peaceful sleep. That's a far cry from how my sister passed."... Elisa's parents, David and Wendy Nelson, watched in silence.  Her father kept his arms cross as he stared at Mann, who kept his eyes closed except for a brief moment throughout the procedure.

Outside the prison, there were 43 people gathered in favor of the execution and, in a separate area, 38 people were protesting the death penalty.

In 1980, Mann tried killing himself immediately after the girl's slaying, slashing his wrists and telling responding police officers he had "done something stupid."  They thought he was talking about the suicide attempt until a couple of days later when Mann's wife found the bloodied note Elisa's mother wrote.

While Mann sought to die the day he killed Elisa, his lawyers had succeeded in keeping him alive for decades through scores of appeals.  His lawyers didn't contest his guilt during appeals, but rather whether he had been properly sentenced to death.

Jeff Nelson criticized the justice system for making his family wait so long. "Elisa was only in our lives for less than 3,800 days and this pedophile and his lawyers have spent nearly 12,000 days -- over three times her entire life -- making a mockery of our legal system," he said.

Of the 406 inmates on death row in Florida, only 28 had been there longer than Mann....

While Mann didn't make a last statement in the death chamber, he did ask that "last words" be handed out after the execution. He chose a Bible verse. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord," Mann wrote out by hand.

Elisa's brother said the family has had to hear over the years that Mann would kneel in prayer while in prison and express remorse for his crime. "He just had his chance to say something and he didn't say anything," Nelson said. "We question whether he was really remorseful."

Though I still remain a troubled agnostic on so many aspects of the modern death penalty, here I share the view of the murder victim's brother that this case ended up "making a mockery of our legal system." If factual guilt was in doubt or if this was a complicated crime implicating competing culpability issues concerning the proper sentence, I suppose I could understand why it might take a decade or more to sort out and then carry out this killer's punishment.  But it seems guilt was never in doubt and that the details of the crime and the killer's basic culpability were relatively clear from the outset.

In other words, it appears that the chief reason why final resolution of this case took over 32 years was because the legal system was eager to have a sentencing debate churn over and over and over again.  I have long believed that there ought to be a basic rule that provides that if a death sentence cannot be reviewed and upheld through all levels of appeal within 15 years, then it ought just become an LWOP sentence in order to save everyone the time and aggravation of the continued uncertainty and legal fighting over the difference a quicker (execution) or slower (LWOP) death sentence. Indeed, I think it is interesting to speculate whether the family of the murder victims in this case would have been able to better more on with their lives if in, say, 1995 it was simply decided that Larry Eugene Mann would just serve LWOP. (It is also interesting to speculate whether Larry Eugene Mann might have died before April 2013 if he had gotten an LWOP sentence from the outset instead of a death sentence which surely led to him getting a lot more attention from lawyers and courts throughout the last three decades.)

April 13, 2013 at 10:17 AM | Permalink

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"I have long believed that there ought to be a basic rule that provides that if a death sentence cannot be reviewed and upheld through all levels of appeal within 15 years, then it ought just become an LWOP sentence in order to save everyone the time and aggravation of the continued uncertainty and legal fighting over the difference a quicker (execution) or slower (LWOP) death sentence."

I can see such an idea being tossed out there---but to have the idea for a long time? Everyone knows that judges. lawyers etc. will just run out the clock on these sentences, cheating victims' families. Look at some of the nonsense going on now---Trista Eng's killer waived his appeals, then litigated that for years---when that litigation was over, he filed a last minute successive habeas case---and the 3d Circuit granted a stay--and it's still being litigated.

This is ridiculous.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 13, 2013 12:14:10 PM

federalist is correct. Doug's default position only (further) incentivizes delay.

I propose a different default position: If, after ten years of post-sentence litigation, no reasonable person could doubt the defendant's factual guilt, the execution is to go forward.

I spent a career litigating federal felony cases, and I can assure you that there is no such thing as an issue that cannot be found and resolved in ten years. It simply does not exist.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 13, 2013 12:35:16 PM

"cheating victims' families"

As Bill Otis noted in the past, prosecutors and the state in general have a duty to respect the families but ultimately their decisions often rest on other grounds. Also, repeatedly, families oppose the death penalty or it is not forefront in their mind. I wish to respect these families too by noting them, since the comment seems to elide past them.

The proposal sounds reasonable but the example just underlines the lack of concern (including by people subject to electoral checks, underlining this lack of concern goes to the people at large) in executing people in many cases.

I don't know how "ridiculous" this all is -- apparently, the people at large feel execution is warranted but are conflicted and so forth enough to allow this to continue. It very well might be wrong -- popular will or inaction doesn't justify due process violations or bad results in general -- but let's remember just what is going on here.

Would some just run out the clock? Probably in some cases but as with efforts to limit habeas, it probably would also have real effects in the direction intended. When someone has an open-ended time to do things, they repeatedly linger on and on. If given a time limit, many will do it. Some will not, but some will do it.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 13, 2013 12:42:33 PM

"...the legal system was eager to have a sentencing debate churn over and over and over again."

The system is made up of people, and those of us on one side of the aisle are not at all eager to have these debates churn over and over.

The needed reform is simple and obvious. Have all claims that go only to sentence rather than guilt reviewed on direct appeal and state collateral review only, both subject to certiorari review in the US Supreme Court. Let all reviews after that, including federal habeas for state prisoners, be limited to issues relating to guilt of the offense. Include Judge Friendly's filter that the petitioner must show a colorable claim of actual innocence for any petition to be considered.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Apr 13, 2013 12:59:51 PM

It's disgraceful that the legal system should inflict another harm on the victim's family by making them wait so long for justice. So many people are apt to say that the DP is broken b/c it takes so and is so expensive. This fatalistic view is not necessary as Kent easily shows that the solution is not that complicated or farfetched.

Posted by: Steve Erickson | Apr 13, 2013 1:21:40 PM

"In other words, it appears that the chief reason why final resolution of this case took over 32 years was because the legal system was eager to have a sentencing debate churn over and over and over again."

What? This is just dumb. Cases usually aren't debates.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 13, 2013 6:09:03 PM

The defendant believed he should have been summarily executed, trying to commit suicide the day of the murder. The thug agents of the prosecutor, the police, cannot speak enough English to ask to what mistake is he referring to. Again, the case was only solved by public help, handing commingling blood stains on a school excuse note with the victim's name and everything, from the defendant's truck, to the really stupid prosecutor and its stupid agents, the police.

Because no doubt existed about his guilt, all appeals were frivolous, and designed for the improper motive of generating death appellate government make work jobs. If the government fails to prosecute all parties allowing the delay, the defense, the judges on that awful Florida Supreme Court, night riders should come around, and apply 50 lashes, tie the tax thieves to a tree outside the court. To deter.

If they ever do that again, they should all be boycotted, preferably to death, where no service or product provider allow them any service.

The appalling time line of the three resentencings to death:

http://murderpedia.org/male.M/m/mann-larry-eugene.htm

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 13, 2013 6:52:06 PM

"The needed reform is simple and obvious. Have all claims that go only to sentence rather than guilt reviewed on direct appeal and state collateral review only, both subject to certiorari review in the US Supreme Court. Let all reviews after that, including federal habeas for state prisoners, be limited to issues relating to guilt of the offense. Include Judge Friendly's filter that the petitioner must show a colorable claim of actual innocence for any petition to be considered."

You honestly think that George Porter shouldn't have had any federal review of his sentence?

Posted by: The Death Penalty Sucks. | Apr 13, 2013 7:19:59 PM

Bill, greetings! You write that you can "assure" us that if an issue exists, it will be found within ten years. If only that were the case! I note the following from Wikipedia describing the case of Michael Morton

"Michael Morton is an American who was wrongfully convicted in 1987 in a Williamson County, Texas court of the 1986 murder of his wife Christine Morton. He spent nearly 25 years in prison before he was exonerated by DNA evidence which supported his claim of innocence and pointed to the crime being committed by another individual. Morton was released from prison on October 4, 2011; an investigation is underway into possible prosecutorial misconduct in the case. Morton's case was featured on CBS's 60 Minutes on March 25, 2012. It was also featured on "Katie", the Katie Couric show, on November 13, 2012.

Morton was arrested and charged with beating his wife to death in 1986. He was convicted in 1987 and sentenced to life in prison, but was exonerated after DNA evidence proved that he was innocent.[7] Pro bono civil attorney John Raley of Houston, Texas, together with Nina Morrison of the New York based Innocence Project filed Morton's motion for DNA testing in February 2005. Raley and Morrison relentlessly sought a court order for DNA testing in state and federal courts until the testing was finally achieved in June, 2011. Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley "tenaciously fought" DNA testing for six years before a judge finally ordered the tests.[8] Morton was freed October 4, 2011 after DNA tests linked another man, Mark Alan Norwood, to Christine Morton's murder. Norwood, a Bastrop dishwasher who lived in Austin in the mid-1980s, was charged and, on March 27, 2013, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the 1986 murder of Christine Morton. He also is a suspect in the 1988 murder of Debra Baker in her Austin home. Both women were beaten to death in their beds.[7] On November 16, 2011, Morton's original prosecutor, Ken Anderson, told reporters: "I want to formally apologize for the system's failure to Mr. Morton. In hindsight, the verdict was wrong." Baker's daughter said she was unmoved by Anderson's apology and held him partially responsible for her mother's death because he and investigators allowed a killer to escape detection by focusing so intently on Morton. "It's harder for me to hear him not holding himself accountable. He's not taking responsibility," she said.[9]

Morton was formally acquitted by Bexar County District Judge Sid Harle on December 19, 2011. On the same day, Morton's attorneys (including Raley, Morrison, Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project, and Gerald Goldstein and Cynthia Orr of San Antonio) asked Harle to order a "court of inquiry" into the actions of Anderson, who is now a district judge in Williamson County. A court of inquiry is a special court that investigates allegations of misconduct by elected officials in Texas. Morton has accused Anderson of failing to provide defense lawyers with exculpatory evidence indicating that another man might have killed Morton's wife, including information that his 3-year-old son witnessed the murder and said his dad was not home at the time.] Morton's attorneys discovered this evidence while preparing a final appeal, and were able to get Anderson and others involved in the investigation deposed under oath. On February 20, 2012; Harle asked the Texas Supreme Court to convene a court of inquiry, finding that there was evidence to support Morton's contention that Anderson had tampered with evidence and should have been held in contempt of court for not complying with the trial judge's order to let him review all possible exculpatory evidence. The court of inquiry began on February 4, 2013. If it finds that there is reason to believe Anderson broke the law, Anderson could potentially face charges that carry up to 10 years in prison."


Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Apr 13, 2013 7:30:14 PM

Michael --

Always good to see your posts.

My proposed standard would not have resulted in the execution of Michael Morton, for at least two reasons. First, he was never sentenced to death to start with. Second, my standard requires the execution of those sentenced to death within ten years only where " no reasonable person could doubt the defendant's factual guilt." When a person is in fact innocent, then, by definition, a reasonable person could doubt his guilt.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 13, 2013 8:35:39 PM

I am sympathetic to Bill's position and I would agree to it on one condition.

For every person who is in fact found actually innocent upon appeal the entire prosecution team has that exact same sentence imposed upon them and it is carried out.

Posted by: Daniel | Apr 13, 2013 10:12:26 PM

Bill frequently the same cases that end with the defendant eventually being proven innocent many years after conviction, in earlier stages were seen as cases where no reasonable person could doubt the defendant's guilt. Indeed, in all cases of post-conviction innocence, 12 jurors unanimously found the defendant guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt." And many eventual innocence cases were not "weak" cases, but strong ones. Until, of course, they turned out not to be.

Posted by: anonymous | Apr 13, 2013 11:00:16 PM

I do not oppose the death penalty in this particular case. May the soul of Elisa rest in peace. May her family find some wisdom and comfort in this tragedy. May the soul of Larry Mann receive justice from the Final Arbiter of Justice.

Caution should always be exercised in determining what is "factual" guilt vs "legal" guilt as they are often not the same. Most people are by nature "unreasonable" so defining what is "reasonable doubt" is like trying to stop fine dry sand from slipping through your clenched fists.

We should not make criminals where no harm (physical, emotional, spiritual or financial) has been committed. Conspiracy to create harm should be a very tenuous postion to absolutely prosecute and should require completely different sentencing considerations.

Even tax evasion causes financial harm. Some drug crimes do and some do not. Murder in this case is the worst of absolute harm and evil.

Posted by: albeed | Apr 13, 2013 11:43:44 PM

Daniel --

"I am sympathetic to Bill's position and I would agree to it on one condition. For every person who is in fact found actually innocent upon appeal the entire prosecution team has that exact same sentence imposed upon them and it is carried out."

Of course it is the jury, not the prosecution team, that determines guilt, and the court, no the prosecution team, that imposes sentence. Should I assume, then, that the jury and judge (and all the appellate judges) should get the same treatment?

What treatment do you propose for a defense attorney who hoodwinks the jury into acquitting a factually guilty person who then goes out and does it again?

No system is infallible. Adults must accept this. What that means is that actors in the system who behave themselves reasonably, honestly and in good faith should not be liable for the systems inevitable errors.

If you believe otherwise, could you give answers to the first two questions?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 14, 2013 12:30:49 AM

anonymous --

"Bill frequently the same cases that end with the defendant eventually being proven innocent many years after conviction, in earlier stages were seen as cases where no reasonable person could doubt the defendant's guilt. Indeed, in all cases of post-conviction innocence, 12 jurors unanimously found the defendant guilty 'beyond a reasonable doubt.'"

But my standard for bringing down the curtain on otherwise perpetual review (as this story shows) is that NO reasonable person could doubt the defendant's guilt. That goes well beyond the 12 original jurors.

The case to end the DP on account of its irreversibility is credible but not so indelibly compelling as to overcome the reasons for having a DP and not allowing murderers to game the system to a fare-thee-well, which is what happened here. The public has considered the irreversibility argument and has rejected it.

Since people have been killed by murderers who legally could have been executed but were not, and since those subsequent victims are also irreversibly dead, the no-turning-back argument runs both ways. Indeed, history unarguably demonstrates that the number of innocents killed by murderers we failed to execute vastly outstrips the number of demonstrably innocent people we have executed in the modern era (that being zero).

In a world where error is inevitable, we do not have a choice of zero mistakes. We have only the choice of which mistakes to make.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 14, 2013 12:43:25 AM

The Rules of Evidence should change. No eyewitness testimony should be allowed that lacks physical corroboration. Most false convictions come from female testimony that misidentifies males of another race. Given the feminist domination of the judicial system, such testimony takes precedence over all logic and established flaws in the facial identification process.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 14, 2013 6:38:24 AM

Hey Bill, I understand the distinction you make about "no reasonable person." What I'm saying is that many eventual innocence cases would meet even that standard.

I worked as a student at a DNA-based Innocence Project. Of the 10 cases that I worked on, most yielded no new facts at all – the evidence had been disposed of long ago. But of the two where the evidence produced at trial was the most powerful and damning, the DNA test was so exculpatory that the prosecutor joined the defense in asking the conviction be overturned. Conversely, a couple of the cases where I initially thought the evidence at trial was really weak, the DNA test ended up being inculpatory.

All I'm saying is that it's not always obvious who are the actually innocent and who are the actually guilty. Even 10-15 years after trial, we often don't know which is which.

All I'm saying is that killing a bunch of innocent people would be a likely cost of your plan. That may be an acceptable cost, but that would be a result.

Posted by: anonymous | Apr 14, 2013 4:06:52 PM

Bill asks:

"Should I assume, then, that the jury and judge (and all the appellate judges) should get the same treatment?"

No. Because the judge and the jury rely on the prosecutor to serve their gate-keeping function. The prosecutor has a choice in whether to bring the case, the judge and the jury do not have this choice. It is about holding the prosecutor accountable for the choices they make.

"What treatment do you propose for a defense attorney who hoodwinks the jury into acquitting a factually guilty person who then goes out and does it again?" Nothing, because every person is factually innocent until proven guilty. The only thing that establishes factual guilt is a conviction.

Posted by: Daniel | Apr 14, 2013 6:35:51 PM

Daniel --

"[T]he judge and the jury rely on the prosecutor to serve their gate-keeping function."

Largely true but not completely. Pretrial motions to dismiss the indictment are routine, and, if granted, insure that the case never gets to the jury.

But it makes no difference. The prosecutor decides whether to open the gate, but the judge and jury alone decide whether to go through it. The defendant never gets to the end of the path to conviction without the actions of all three.

"The prosecutor has a choice in whether to bring the case, the judge and the jury do not have this choice."

No, but they have an equally effective choice so far as the defendant's exculpation goes. The jury can acquit and the judge can dismiss or order an acquittal.

"It is about holding the prosecutor accountable for the choices they make."

But others equally indispensable to the defendant's being sentenced are NOT accountable for the choices THEY make???

I asked: "What treatment do you propose for a defense attorney who hoodwinks the jury into acquitting a factually guilty person who then goes out and does it again?"

You respond: "Nothing, because every person is factually innocent until proven guilty. The only thing that establishes factual guilt is a conviction."

Great. Glad to know Hitler was innocent. Osama too.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 14, 2013 10:39:12 PM

anonymous --

"All I'm saying is that it's not always obvious who are the actually innocent and who are the actually guilty."

But my proposed standard never assumes that guilt will be "obvious."

"All I'm saying is that killing a bunch of innocent people would be a likely cost of your plan."

Where is the documentation for this? The DP was reinstated 37 years ago, and in that time there have been 1327 executions. Not a single one has been shown in court, or in any other neutral forum, to have been of an innocent person. Not one.

Yes, I understand that abolitionists did years of belligerent lying about the supposed innocence of Roger Keith Coleman, but lying is all it was. And if abolitionists want to show Willingham or Troy Davis was innocent, fine. Prove it in court, or at least in some forum other than defense websites.

There is, however, ample proof, including convictions in court, that many people have been dispatched by previously adjudicated killers, sentenced to prison for life, who killed again.

I made this point in my last post to you, but you ignored it. Do the lives of those done in by killers serving life terms not count? Given that prison can never be made infallibly secure, we know that such murders will happen in the future just as they have in the past. Would you at least support the DP for previous convicted killers who did it again in jail while serving LWOP? If not, have you not just given them a license to kill without consequence?

Finally, I want to point out how far the discussion has moved from the case Doug put up here. It was not about innocence fantasies. It was about a man only the insane could think was innocent, but it took 32 years of almost entirely gaming-the-system litigation to carry out the sentence.

Do you think that's justice?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 14, 2013 11:12:07 PM

Bill, one reason why no court will rule that an executed person was innocent is that courts require litigants to have this thing called standing. And dead people don't have it in criminal cases.

Also courts don't rule people to be "innocent," so even if a court did ignore the standing requirement and overturn a dead persons conviction, I'm sure you would find a way to make this fall short of your impossible to meet standard.

So what forum? The forum of your arrogant self-satisfied mind? There is no forum that does this sort of thing.

You can put your head in the sand and ignore all of the cases where people have come within days of execution, only to get a last second stay, then later have their conviction overturned, and assume that "whew" we just so happen to have caught them all, or you can take seriously those cases as well as post-execution cases like Willingham and DeLuna, recognizing that the chances that we happened to catch them all – even though some were caught by fucking journalism students with just days to go - is really unlikely. Because we humans are fallible and the criminal justice system is fallible. Or you can just be glib and assume that since the abolitionists haven't proven this to your personal liking therefore it must be that the system is perfect. Because so many human made systems are perfect.

As for whether the 32 year delay is just, I would say it is equally just as if he had received LWOP – as so many heinous murderers do. Are are the 1000s of LWOP outcomes in murder cases no different than Larry Mann just? Or are those tremendous injustices we should be railing against?

Posted by: anonymous | Apr 14, 2013 11:37:13 PM

anonymous --

Still not admitting abolitionists' central role in the Roger Keith Coleman innocence hoax?

Still refusing to discuss the license to kill you have supported, and would continue to support, for murderous LWOP inmates once the DP is abolished?

Still pretending that decedent's estate or another party cannot bring a case to court to prove innocence? Now that's odd, because your very own Innocence Project claimed the exact opposite in the Willingham case itself, when it got a biased district judge to convene a Texas court of inquiry.

Yes, well, it seems there's a reason I give my name and you hide yours.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 15, 2013 12:21:51 AM

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