Fayetteville, N.C. — Prosecutors told jurors Monday that they can link a man accused of raping and killing a 5-year-old Fayetteville girl in 2009 with the location where her body was found.
Mario Andrette McNeill, 32, is charged with murder, rape and kidnapping in the death of Shaniya Davis. 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 was seen with the girl on a Sanford hotel security camera hours after her disappearance, and Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West said in his opening statement that investigators found cocaine and some of McNeill's pubic hair in the room.
Cellphone calls made by McNeill that morning used towers near N.C. 87, West told the eight-man, four-woman jury, and soil found later on the gas pedal in McNeill's car is consistent with soil from the area when Shaniya was found.
West described the wooded area where her body was dumped as having "the stench of dead deer carcasses" and said the body was cold and lifeless when searchers located it.
McNeill has admitted taking Shaniya to the hotel but maintains he didn't kill her.
"He doesn't know what happened beforehand, and he doesn't know what happened after (the hotel)," defense attorney Terry Alford said in his opening statement.
Alford said McNeill was only trying to help the Davis family by taking Shaniya to Sanford to meet some relatives, who would ensure the girl stayed in school. He never tried to hide who he was and lied about it to investigators later only because he's a known drug dealer who doesn't trust police, Alford said.
"He didn't go in with a hoodie on. He didn't go in with a mask on. He just simply walked in," Alford said. "He did fudge a little bit about the girl's situation, but he did tell (hotel employees), 'I got a little girl with me.' It's not like he tried to sneak her into the back of the room."
Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons ruled before opening statements that prosecutors could tell jurors that McNeill's attorneys tipped off Fayetteville police as to the location of Shaniya's body.
Defense attorneys said such information would violate attorney-client privilege, arguing that McNeill provided information based on his original attorney's advice that prosecutors had agreed not to seek the death penalty if he cooperated.
Prosecutors denied there was any deal, and Ammons ruled that McNeill waived his attorney-client privilege by giving police a statement.
Davis will be tried after McNeill's case is over, but prosecutors aren't seeking the death penalty against her.
Investigators say she 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.