McNeill won't fight death penalty, tells judge 'what does it matter'
Posted May 28, 2013
Updated May 29, 2013
Fayetteville, N.C. — Mario Andrette McNeill, who was convicted last week of kidnapping and killing 5-year-old Shaniya Davis, told a judge Tuesday that he wants no one to speak on his behalf during his sentencing.
Saying he fully understands he could be sentenced to death, McNeill said, “My goal was freedom. I lost my freedom. What does it matter after that?”
McNeill, who presented no defense during his 12-day trial, also said he didn’t want his mother or anyone else to testify on his behalf during the sentencing phase. McNeill is facing death or life in prison without parole.
Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons asked McNeill whether he could tell his mother that he didn't want her to testify on his behalf.
McNeill looked at his mother, Juanita Bell, and said, "I don't want you to testify on my behalf. Love you."
Then Ammons said, "You understand you are completely and totally tying your lawyers' hands?”
Defense attorney Terry Alford said McNeill instructed him not to participate in the sentencing hearing or offer any closing.
“Obviously, that’s against our wishes, against our desire, against our professional opinion,” Alford said. “We are at an impasse.”
McNeill’s half-sister, Tijuana Bell, his cousin, Chavez Brown, and his pastor and softball coach, the Rev. Roy Birch, were also scheduled to testify during the mitigation.
Ammons asked McNeill, who appeared to be smiling slightly, if there was anything that would change his mind.
“It bothers me that you think this is funny, but maybe this is a coping mechanism,” the judge said. “They can take you to Raleigh and execute you, do you understand that?”
Ammons said the defense attorneys could still make closing arguments during the sentencing phase without presenting testimony. McNeill again declined and continued to fold origami, as he had done through much of the trial.
"I don't mean any disrespect," Ammons said. "But this is a little more important than the origami that you're doing now."
McNeill replied, "It helps me think."
Shaniya's body was found on Nov. 16, 2009, in a kudzu patch off N.C. Highway 87 on the Lee-Harnett county line, six days after her mother reported her missing from their Fayetteville mobile home.
An autopsy determined that she had been suffocated, and she had injuries "consistent with a sexual assault" shortly before she died, according to a medical examiner.
The eight-man, four-woman jury deliberated for about 7½ hours over two days before finding McNeill guilty of first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, sexual offense of a child, indecent liberties with a child, human trafficking and sexual servitude in her death. He was acquitted of raping her.
Investigators say Antoinette Nicole Davis, sold her daughter to McNeill to pay off a drug debt. Antoinette Davis is charged with first-degree murder, indecent liberties with a child, felony child abuse, felony sexual servitude, rape of a child, sexual offense of a child by an adult offender, human trafficking and making a false police report.
She will be tried later this year, but prosecutors aren't seeking the death penalty against her.
After McNeill's exchange with the judge Tuesday, the state began its testimony with Bradley Lockhart, Shaniya’s father. He recalled how he met Shaniya’s mother at a party and learned he had fathered a child with her shortly after the girl was born.
In early 2007, Lockhart, who was in the military, purchased a home in Fayetteville and moved in four of his children, including Shaniya. Lockhart said he and Antoinette Davis had an informal arrangement, and Shaniya continued to spend time with her mother.
He began crying as he described how his daughter liked to play and dress up.
“She always fell asleep on my chest,” Lockhart said. “She would always try to kiss my cheek.”
Lockhart said he’s felt a range of emotions since Shaniya’s death.
“Losing a child is probably the hardest thing anyone out there could experience,” he said. “It’s hard to sleep, even after three and a half years. I’ve had two collapsed lungs due to the stress.
"It’s hard to stay focused and function. You think about everything you could have done different. You get to the point where you blame yourself,” he said.
Shaniya’s 21-year-old half-sister, Cheyenne Lockhart, testified after her father. She described her baby sister as her “mini-me” who would play with her makeup and follow her everywhere.
“She was real bubbly,” she said, wiping away tears. “She loved to talk. She loved to play jokes. She would always tell us that she loved us.
“It’s hard, it’s painful – just to know that she was once here and someone took her out of this world. There is no day that goes by that I don’t think about her,” she said.
After Cheyenne Lockhart finished, McNeill's motherl tried again to testify on her son's behalf. McNeill again refused, and Bell left the courtroom in tears.
The defense then rested. The jury will return Wednesday morning.