Fayetteville, N.C. — A man accused of raping and killing a 5-year-old Fayetteville girl in 2009 rejected a plea deal Tuesday and said he wants to proceed with a trial, which could send him to death row if convicted.
Prosecutors said Monday that they wouldn't seek the death penalty against Mario Andrette McNeill, 32, if he pleaded guilty to kidnapping, raping and murdering Shaniya Davis.
"He maintains his innocence and respectfully declines the plea offer," public defender Harold "Butch" Pope told Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons on Tuesday morning.
Jury selection then resumed, and Ammons excused three of the 97 prospective jurors. One woman is a volunteer for the Fayetteville Police Department who helped search for Shaniya, while the others cited personal hardships that preclude them from sitting on a jury for what could be a two-month trial.
Shaniya's father, Bradley Lockhart, showed little emotion when he heard the case was proceeding to trial. Later, he said, "It's up to God. I'll let the justice system do its work."
The girl'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.
McNeill, who was seen with Shaniya on a Sanford hotel security camera hours after her disappearance, later surrendered to police after investigators contacted his family.
He said Monday that he wouldn't dispute that he left the Sleepy Hollow Mobile Home Park with Shaniya and that he took her to the hotel in Sanford and later left with her. He has repeatedly denied killing her.
An autopsy determined that Shaniya died of asphyxiation and that injuries she suffered were consistent with a sexual assault. A medical examiner noted in the autopsy that investigators believe the girl was used to pay off a drug debt.
Authorities say Antoinette Davis was complicit in her daughter's death. Arrest warrants state that she "did knowingly provide Shaniya with the intent that she be held in sexual servitude" and "did permit an act of prostitution with Shaniya."
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, and prosecutors aren't seeking the death penalty against her.