Medical examiner: Shaniya Davis was sexually assaulted, suffocated
Posted May 8, 2013
Fayetteville, N.C. — A 5-year-old Fayetteville girl was sexually assaulted before she was killed more than three years ago, a medical examiner testified Wednesday.
Shaniya Davis 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.
Mario Andrette McNeill, 32, is charged with murder, kidnapping and rape in Shaniya's death. He could face the death penalty if convicted of murder.
Dr. Thomas Clark, the former deputy chief medical examiner for North Carolina, said the girl's body was partially decomposed and could have been in the overgrown area for days before it was found. She was wearing a only sweatshirt and striped underpants and was covered in leaves, twigs and vines, he said.
Clark said she had abrasions around her vagina that were "consistent with a sexual assault" that occurred shortly before she died. He also noted a bruise on her cheek that could have been left by a hand as she was suffocated.
"There is no other reason this child is dead," he testified, noting there were no other signs of trauma that would have killed her. "Thus, I concluded (the cause of death) is external airway obstruction, or asphyxiation."
Clark said there was no evidence that Shaniya was strangled, and he said it would have taken her killer a few minutes to suffocate her.
On cross-examination, he acknowledged that he couldn't state with any degree of certainty when Shaniya died, and he said the injuries she suffered could have occurred several hours before she was killed.
McNeill was seen with Shaniya at a Sanford motel hours after she was reported missing. His attorneys maintain that he was asked to take the girl there to meet up with relatives who would ensure she went to school.
An FBI agent who analyzed McNeill's cellphone records testified that calls made to and from the phone put him in the mobile home park where Shaniya lived with her family at about 3 a.m. and showed him at the Sanford motel about four hours later.
Shortly before 8:30 a.m. that morning, the phone's signal was bouncing off a cell tower near N.C. 87 about 6 miles from where Shaniya's body was found, the FBI agent said. A little over an hour later, the phone was using towers near McNeill's home in Fayetteville, he said.
Defense attorney Terry Alford requested a mistrial when prosecutors tried to introduce evidence of photos found on McNeill's computer. He said they were irrelevant to the case and would suggest to jurors that they were illegal.
McNeill faces sexual exploitation charges in connection with some of the photos, but the don't pertain to Shaniya.
"Do you realize how close you are (to a mistrial)?" Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons asked Assistant Cumberland County District Attorney Rita Cox. "Is the sole purpose of this witness that he found nothing?"
Cox said she wanted a Fayetteville cyber-crime investigator to provide other evidence.
"Focus on what information you want to get from this witness," Ammons said in denying the request for a mistrial.
Ammons also spoke to a juror Wednesday afternoon after a court clerk said she overheard the woman speaking about the case on the phone during a break.
The juror denied discussing the case, and the judge said she could remain on the jury.
Earlier in the day, Ammons also admonished people attending the trial who he said were "acting in an inappropriate manner" on Tuesday when jurors were watching a video of investigators recovering Shaniya's body.
"If you feel you have to laugh, giggle or cry, get up and leave," he said. "If the bailiff sees you and removes you, you cannot come back."