FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The mother of a 5-year-old Fayetteville girl who was murdered almost four years ago will spend at least 17 years in prison after pleading guilty Friday to several charges in her death.
Antoinette Nicole Davis, 29, entered Alford pleas to second-degree murder, human trafficking, first-degree kidnapping, first-degree sex offense, felony child abuse with prostitution, child abuse involving a sex act, sexual servitude, indecent liberties with a child and conspiracy to commit sex offense of a child. She was sentenced to between 210 and 261 months in prison.
An Alford plea allows a defendant to plead guilty, while maintaining his or her innocence, because there is sufficient evidence to find him or her guilty. The plea deal, which included the dismissal of a first-degree rape charge, heads off a trial that was scheduled to begin Oct. 28.
Shaniya Davis was reported missing from her Fayetteville home on Nov. 10, 2009. Her body was found six days later in an overgrown field on the Lee-Harnett county line, and an autopsy determined that she had been sexually assaulted and suffocated.
Mario Andrette McNeill, 32, was convicted in May of kidnapping and assaulting Shaniya before killing her, and he was sentenced to death.
Davis apologized to Shaniya's father, Bradley Lockhart, in court Friday, saying she had been too proud to let his family care for their daughter.
"I want to say I did the best I could with my children," she said. "I never said I was a perfect mother, but I was a good mother. I did what I had to provide for them. I did what I had to to make sure they were alright. I didn't have any help from anybody."
Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons tersely disagreed.
"You could have saved your daughter's life, and you did not. You had the time, the opportuity and the means to save Shaniya's life, and you did not," he said. "You are not a good mother. This did not have to happen."
Ammons ordered her to register as a sex offender for 30 years and suggested that she receive psychological counseling in prison.
Defense attorney D.W.Bray said Davis always felt morally responsible for what happened to Shaniya.
Lockhart said he still grieves for his daughter but said he forgave Davis a long time ago and that he knows Shaniya did as well.
"Maybe you can take this time and dig deep within you and help others by sharing your story," he told Davis.
The hastily arranged plea followed a pre-trial motions hearing Friday morning in which Ammons denied an attempt by the defense to keep Davis' statements to police out of her trial.
Bray argued that investigators browbeat Davis over four days of questioning about Shaniya's disappearance, and they never advised her of her rights to remain silent or to confer with an attorney. On the fourth day, he said, she finally "broke."
"I gave her to him to cover $200. He was only supposed to have sex," a sobbing Davis told investigators at the time.
Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West said McNeill previously lent Davis $200 to buy food and pay for a hotel room when she and her children were homeless. Information in an autopsy report claimed the debt to be drug-related, but West said that was incorrect.
McNeill came to the Fayetteville mobile home park where Davis lived on Nov. 10, 2009, to have sex with someone else, West said, but when that fell through, he went to Davis' home and demanded that she either pay him the $200 or have sex with him.
When Davis refused, McNeill took Shaniya instead, West said, adding that investigators never believed her claims that she tried to stop McNeill from taking her daughter.
A feces-covered blanket found in a trash can outside Davis' home suggests that Shaniya was sexually assaulted inside, West said.
The rape charge was dismissed against Davis because McNeill was acquitted of that charge, which would have made it difficult to convict her, West said. Also, prosecutors reduced a first-degree murder charge against Davis to second-degree murder, he said, because they didn't feel they had enough evidence to obtain a first-degree murder conviction.