Analysts: Soil ties man to site where Shaniya Davis' body found
Posted May 14, 2013
Fayetteville, N.C. — State analysts said Tuesday that soil found in a Fayetteville man's car likely came from a rural location where the body of a 5-year-old girl was found more than three years ago.
Mario Andrette McNeill, 32, is charged with murder, kidnapping and rape in the death of Shaniya Davis. He could face the death penalty if convicted of murder.
Shaniya 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.
Heather Hanna, a geologist with the North Carolina Geological Survey, testified that she compared a sample of soil that investigators collected from the gas pedal of McNeill's car with samples from the kudzu patch and found metallic fibers in both.
Roberto Garcia, a materials engineer at North Carolina State University, said the fibers appear to have come from a braided metal wire, such as a truck winch.
Hanna conducted electron micro-analysis of the soil samples at Fayetteville State University and determined that the mineral garnet also was present in all of them. Soil from McNeill's home and Shaniya's home didn't have the same composition as what was found in McNeill's car, she said.
"I would say it's highly unlikely they did not come from the same source," she said of the soil from the car and the kudzu patch.
Garcia echoed her comment.
Defense attorney Butch Pope questioned Hanna as to the extent of garnet in the region.
"I would not expect there to be garnet in the area of Fayetteville," she said, citing geological studies and maps.
Pope noted that soil on the floor mats of McNeill's car weren't tested and that the brake pedal was "squeaky clean."
"The floor mats would not have affected my interpretation of the gas pedal," Hanna responded.
"Do you know who drove the automobile before Mr. McNeill?" Pope asked. "Do you know who got in that car, put it in gear and drove off?"
Hanna said she didn't know.
"The point is, this car was placed as the one belonging to the suspect, she said.
The testimony was the first conclusive link between McNeill and Shaniya's death.
State Bureau of Investigation analysts testified in recent days that his DNA wasn't found on her and that four hairs found on a hotel comforter and some pubic hair found on a blanket pulled from a trash can outside Shaniya's home might belong to him.
McNeill has admitted to taking Shaniya to a Comfort Suites in Sanford, but his attorneys contend the girl's aunt asked him to take her there to hand her off to other relatives, who would ensure that she went to school.
Steven Swensen, a forensic expert with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension who conducted advanced DNA tests on the hairs, testified Tuesday that there was less than a 1 percent chance that the hairs were from someone other than McNeill.
Christie Smith, a supervisor at the Arizona Department of Public Safety crime lab in Phoenix, testified that similar DNA testing showed that McNeill couldn't have been the source of hair found on Shaniya's clothing.
An autopsy determined that Shaniya was suffocated and suffered injuries "consistent with a sexual assault" shortly before she died.
Investigators say Shaniya's mother, Antoinette Nicole 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. She will be tried after McNeill's case is over, but prosecutors aren't seeking the death penalty against her.