Fayetteville, N.C. — The fate of Mario Andrette McNeill, who is accused of raping and killing 5-year-old Shaniya Davis in 2009, is in the hands of a jury following closing arguments Wednesday morning.
If the eight-man, four-woman jury finds him guilty, they would hear evidence before deciding whether to sentence him to life in prison without parole or death.
During closing arguments Wednesday, defense attorney Butch Pope said the state failed to make its case against McNeill and could not prove where the child was assaulted or when she died.
"We don't know when this little girl died,” he said. “And after three years of investigation, and after this trial, and after testimony from an expert pathologist, we still don't know."
McNeill, 33, is charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and rape in the death of Davis. Her 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.
Witnesses and security video established that McNeill had the girl when he checked into the Comfort Suites hotel in Sanford on Nov. 10, the day Shaniya was reported missing.
McNeill has admitted to taking Shaniya to the hotel 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.
Pope and lead defense attorney Terry Alford said McNeill’s actions speak to his innocence – he didn’t hide from security cameras at the hotel and tried to get in touch with Shaniya’s family after she was reported missing.
There was no evidence of semen found on Shaniya’s body or clothing. Pope said the state’s case boils down to hairs found in a trash can outside the girl’s home and on a comforter from the hotel.
"That hair could have come in on his clothes, or on Shaniya's clothes," he said, reminding the jury that McNeill had a sexual relationship with Shaniya's mother. "That hair doesn't prove one thing, one thing - but it sounds like it must be relevant. It doesn't prove sex, it doesn't prove assault, it doesn't prove anything.”
Prosecutors led closing arguments Tuesday, wrapping up three weeks of testimony that included 44 witnesses for the state. They exhorted the jury to find McNeill guilty based on “strong circumstantial evidence” and said the suspect was the only one with the means and motive to kill the girl.
“Tell her you know what happened to her, not the lies that he’s been telling,” Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West said Tuesday. “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.”
McNeill did not take the stand or present any evidence in his own defense during the trial, but he demanded jurors watch his full six-hour interview with police.
Investigators say Shaniya's mother, 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 after McNeill's case is over, but prosecutors aren't seeking the death penalty against her.