Witnesses try to explain lack of suspect's DNA on Shaniya Davis
Posted May 13, 2013
Fayetteville, N.C. — Prosecution witnesses tried to explain Monday why they didn't find a Fayetteville man's DNA on the 5-year-old girl he's accused of raping and killing more than three years ago.
Mario Andrette McNeill, 32, is charged with murder, kidnapping and rape in the death of Shaniya Davis. He could face the death penalty if convicted of murder.
Shaniya 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.
A State Bureau of Investigation analyst testified Friday that she found no evidence of semen on Shaniya's body or clothing, although a medical examiner said that she had injuries "consistent with a sexual assault."
On Monday, another SBI analyst said she found no male DNA on Shaniya but said that was "not unexpected."
"The longer the time goes on between the incident and testing, the DNA starts to degrade," analyst Kristin Hughes testified. "Seventy-two hours is usually the opportune time for us to collect DNA evidence."
An autopsy determined that Shaniya had been suffocated, but it's unclear how long her body was in the woods before it was discovered.
Hughes also said exposure to the elements and bacteria also could degrade DNA to the point where it cannot be matched to other samples.
Defense attorney Butch Pope also suggested another scenario during his cross-examination.
"It could be because there's no sex, right?" Pope asked.
"It's possible," Hughes replied.
"Under proper conditions, DNA can last for years and years and years," Pope said. "DNA testing has been done on mummies."
Hughes agreed with those statements.
Earlier in the day, Jennifer Remy, a trace evidence analyst for the SBI, testified that hair found on a blanket police pulled from a trash can outside Shaniya's home were consistent with McNeill. She referred to it as a body hair, declining to call it a pubic hair.
"I can't say it absolutely came from someone," Remy said, noting that she tests only for similarities and differences.
Pope informed Remy that McNeill had a previous relationship with Shaniya's aunt and asked, "When you analyze a hair, you don't know how old it is?"
"No," she answered.
Remy said four hairs recovered from the top side of a comforter taken from a Sanford motel also were consistent with McNeill's body hair. Other hairs from the comforter were inconclusive, she said.
Hughes testified that there wasn't enough DNA in most of the hairs for an accurate test.
McNeill has admitted to taking Shaniya to a Comfort Suites in Sanford, but his attorneys contend the girl's aunt asked him to take her there to hand her off to other relatives, who would ensure that she went to school.