Fayetteville, N.C. — Police grilled a Fayetteville man for nearly six hours in November 2009 as they searched for a missing 5-year-old girl, alternating between accusing him of killing her and pleading with him for information on where she was.
An eight-man, four-woman jury watched a videotape Wednesday of the entire interview with Mario Andrette McNeill as prosecutors prepared to wrap up their case in his capital murder trial.
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.
McNeill, 32, is charged with murder, kidnapping and rape in her death.
He insisted Tuesday on having jurors hear the full interview, despite warnings from his attorneys and Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons that they also would learn about his previous conviction for shooting three people and various drug arrests.
Former Fayetteville police Sgt. Chris Corcione led the questioning of McNeill, who surrendered to police after they identified him from a security video as having taken Shaniya to a Sanford hotel shortly after she disappeared.
McNeill initially denied knowing Shaniya and said the person in the video wasn't him.
"You have more information than I do," Corcione said.
"Actually, I haven't," McNeill responded.
"What you're doing now is you're making it worse – one lie after another," Corcione said later in the interview. "If there was a time in your life you need to be perfectly honest, it's now."
As McNeill continued to deny taking Shaniya to Sanford, Corcione called him "an absolute fool" and said a jury "is going to be laughing at you" for lying to police.
"You like to (molest) little girls," he said. "That's what everybody is thinking."
"A long time ago, I stopped worrying about what everybody thinks," McNeill said.
"I need you to do the right thing and tell me where this princess is," Corcione said. "The evidence has led me to you. The evidence, as it is now, is what is going to destroy you.
"Only a person who's hiding something dark can sit here and not tell me what's going on," he continued. "'What are you hiding, buddy?"
"I have nothing to hide," McNeill said.
About two hours into the interview, he changed his story and admitted to taking Shaniya to the hotel after getting a text message from her aunt asking him to hand her off to somebody.
"I didn't think it would go this far," he said.
Corcione and another police investigator said McNeill's story sounded implausible, and an FBI agent said a log of texts to and from McNeill's cellphone didn't jibe with his story.
"You take a child you've never seen before, drive her to Sanford and then come back to Fayetteville and give her to people you didn't even know?" the unidentified investigator asked during the interview.
"We have no proof that you gave her to somebody else," Corcione said. "You need to help me figure out who that someone else is."
"I don't know. I don't know. I don't know," McNeill said as police repeatedly asked him where Shaniya was.
""You killed that baby, didn't you?" Corcione said.
"No, no, no," McNeill insisted.
"No reasonable person would take a strange 5-year-old person from the front porch," Corcione said. "You killed that little girl because you had to get rid of her because she's evidence of the crime."
"No, no, no," McNeill said.
When he refused to speak with investigators further, they balked.
"We can't accept that," an FBI agent said. "We have a missing 5-year-old girl who was in your possession.
"Show some respect and open your eyes. Sit up! Sit up in your chair!" the agent yelled at McNeill.
"Do you have your evidence?" McNeill asked investigators later. "You have everything you have. Do what you have to do."
"You admit having her between Fayetteville and Sanford," the FBI agent said.
"I take everything I said back," McNeill responded. "I make bad decisions sometimes."
When investigators left the room, McNeill made a couple of cellphone calls.
"They're trying to charge me with everything," he said on the phone. "Everybody's calling me and texting me about it now."
McNeill eventually gave police information that led investigators to Shaniya's body. An autopsy determined that she had been suffocated and suffered injuries "consistent with a sexual assault" shortly before she died.
Investigators say Shaniya's mother, Antoinette Nicole Davis, sold her daughter to McNeill to pay off a drug debt.
She 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.