Fayetteville, N.C. — Opening statements in the capital murder trial of a man accused of raping and killing a 5-year-old Fayetteville girl have been postponed until Monday afternoon as the judge deals with a final pre-trial issue.
Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons closed his Cumberland County courtroom to the public on Friday morning to address a defense motion.
"A matter has come to my attention that requires me, in the interest of justice, with no other available means to me, to require that this court now be closed to everyone except the parties that are involved," Ammons said.
After less than 15 minutes, he reopened the courtroom and said he would handle the issue Monday morning and that the public would be allowed in at that time.
The hearing was supposed to be over a defense motion to suppress a statement made by Mario Andrette McNeill regarding the location of Shaniya Davis' body, but the court administrator said Ammons closed the courtroom to discuss a legal issue about attorney-client privilege.
McNeill, 32, is charged with murder, rape and kidnapping in Shaniya's death. He could face the death penalty if convicted of murder.
Shaniya'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.
Last week, he rejected a deal offered by prosecutors to guarantee a life prison sentence if he pleaded guilty. His attorneys said he maintains he is innocent.
His attorneys have argued that the first defense attorney on the case had reached a deal with prosecutors not to seek the death penalty if McNeill helped locate Shaniya's body. Prosecutors have denied any such agreement.
Jury selection finished Thursday, with eight men and four women selected as jurors for the two-month trial and three women and one man serving as alternate jurors.
Authorities say 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.