Closing arguments heard in Shaniya Davis Case
Posted May 21, 2013
Fayetteville, N.C. — Prosecutors making closing arguments Tuesday in their case against a Fayetteville man accusing of raping and killing a 5-year-old girl called on the jury to convict based on “strong circumstantial evidence” against the defendant.
In his 90-minute closing, Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West exhorted jurors to find Mario Andrette McNeill guilty of rape and first-degree murder in the death of Shaniya Davis, whose body was found in a wooded area on the Lee-Harnett county line on Nov. 16, 2009.
“Tell her you know what happened to her, not the lies that he’s been telling,” West said. “I ask you, I plead for you, on behalf of the state of North Carolina, to take that last step. I ask you to go into that jury room and find him guilty for what he did to that little baby.”
Through most of his closing argument, West walked jurors through a timeline of events surrounding Shaniya’s disappearance, McNeill’s arrest and the subsequent discovery of her body. He focused on evidence including video and witness testimony that put Shaniya with McNeill at a hotel, his pubic hair found a hotel comforter and soil samples from his car that were consistent with soil from the area where the girl’s body was found.
"Justice found a way in this case time and time and time again, and that is not coincidence," West said. “These aren't coincidences, ladies and gentlemen, these are a set of circumstances."
West also reminded jurors of testimony from police who said a phone call from McNeill’s attorney at the time helped them narrow the search area for Shaniya’s body.
That prompted defense attorney Terry Alford to ask for a mistrial, saying West “crossed the line.” The judge denied the motion.
Prosecutors called 44 witnesses over the past three weeks before resting their case against McNeill on Thursday morning. He did not take the stand or present any evidence in his own defense, however, he demanded jurors watch his full six-hour interview with police.
If the eight-man, four-woman jury finds him guilty, they would then hear evidence before deciding whether to sentence him to life in prison without parole or death.
Investigators say Shaniya's mother, Antoinette Nicole Davis, sold her daughter to McNeill to pay off a drug debt. She reported the girl missing six days before she was found.
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 after McNeill's case is over, but prosecutors aren't seeking the death penalty against her.
West’s closing argument was followed by one from Assistant District Attorney Robert Hicks, who said the state met its burden of proof. He said McNeill was the only person who had the means and the motive to kill Shaniya.
Hicks demonstrated for the jury the length of time – two minutes – that it took for Shaniya to be asphyxiated.
“Every second was an eternity for Shaniya,” he said. “That was a meant-to-do-it murder.”
Alford, who began his closing argument about 3 p.m., reminded jurors that many different stories had been told about his client.
He said the prosecution had “everything wrapped up in a perfect package…You’d wonder what in the world I’m going to say.”
McNeill has admitted to taking Shaniya to a Comfort Suites in Sanford but has contended that 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.
Following Shaniya's disappearance and murder, McNeill and the aunt, Brenda Davis, exchanged text messages in which McNeill questioned what was going on.
“There he was, trying to talk to the two people who would have given him permission to (take) Shaniya. Why would somebody want to do that if he had done all the things they said,” Alford said.
He said Shaniya's aunt and mother didn't want to speak with McNeill once the girl disappeared.
"You think that would be the main person they'd want to talk to, don't you?" Alford said.
McNeill signed his own name at the hotel when he checked in with Shaniya and allowed himself to be videotaped on security camera – actions not fitting a guilty person, Alford said.
McNeill also had no scratches on him, he said, and Shaniya did not appear to be crying or upset while she was at the hotel with him.
Alford also said the body would have shown more signs of decomposition had she been in the woods for six or seven days.
"The package is not complete," Alford said of the state's case.
The defense finished half of its closing before court recessed Tuesday. Attorney Butch Pope will continue Wednesday morning.