Accused child killer deemed competent for trial
Posted April 26, 2013
Fayetteville, N.C. — A Superior Court judge ruled Friday that the man accused of raping and killing a 5-year-old Fayetteville girl is competent to stand trial, despite some psychologists saying he has been delusional in recent days.
Mario Andrette McNeill, 32, is charged with murder, rape and kidnapping in the November 2009 death of Shaniya Davis. He could face the death penalty if convicted of murder.
His capital murder trial was supposed to have begun Monday, but Judge Jim Ammons delayed it for a week after defense attorneys expressed concerns about his competency. Ammons ordered state psychiatrists to evaluate him in recent days.
Mark Hazelrigg, a psychologist at Central Regional Hospital in Butner who assessed McNeill on Wednesday, described him as intelligent and having "no impairment in cognitive ability" and found him competent to stand trial.
Meanwhile, Durham psychologist James Hilkey diagnosed McNeill with schizotypal personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder and a narcissistic personality after meeting with him for more than two hours last Saturday at the request of defense attorneys.
Hilkey said McNeill described an electromagnetic field in the courtroom that allowed him to sense the jury's perceptions of him, and he closed his eyes in the courtroom to enhance his paranormal experience.
"He denied that he was crazy and said he was happy with the jury selection and referenced he had a special connection with three of the jurors and felt they would be favorably disposed to his case," Hilkey testified.
McNeill also repeatedly talked about someone named "Sophia," who Hilkey said was tantamount to a deity or an alien.
"I do believe these belief systems will impair his ability to assist counsel," he testified, adding the McNeill was adamant that there was nothing wrong with him.
Dr. George Corvin, a Raleigh psychiatrist, met with McNeill for five hours on Sunday and said McNeill shared the same behavior with him. He likewise questions whether McNeill is rational enough to help his lawyers defend him.
Assistant Cumberland County District Attorney Rita Cox noted that McNeill has never demonstrated the mental problems Hilkey described in the more that three years that he's been in jail awaiting trial.
"He's playing everybody," Assistant Cumberland County District Attorney Robby Hicks told Ammons. "He likes to play all kinds of little games. The evidence has shown you that (McNeill) is capable of turning it on and turning it off.”
Defense attorney Butch Pope said that, when he speaks to McNeill, “I feel like I’m talking to myself.”
“It’s obvious he has downplayed his symptoms,” Pope said.
Ammons sided with prosecutors, saying that McNeill “acted appropriately” during jury selection and other pre-trial hearings and that his answers to questions indicates he has an understanding of the proceedings.
No ruling made on statement to police
Shaniya's body was found in a kudzu patch off N.C. Highway 87 near the Lee-Harnett county line on Nov. 16, 2009, six days after her mother, Antoinette Nicole Davis, reported her missing from their mobile home on Sleepy Hollow Drive in Fayetteville.
Two weeks ago, McNeill rejected a deal offered by prosecutors to guarantee a life prison sentence if he pleaded guilty. His attorneys said he maintains his innocence.
Prosecutors want to note in their opening statement to jurors next week that McNeill helped authorities locate Shaniya's body, but the defense said that would violate attorney-client privilege.
Allen Rogers, who represented McNeill when he was first questioned by police in her disappearance, said he told McNeill that helping investigators "could aid him in avoiding the death penalty." He said he was only advising him of the consequences should he face a capital murder trial, and prosecutors have denied making a deal with McNeill in 2009.
Ammons said he would rule on the matter Monday before the trial starts.
Investigators say Davis sold her daughter to McNeill to pay off a drug debt.
She 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.
Her trial will be held after McNeill's case is over, and prosecutors aren't seeking the death penalty against her.