Local News

Jurisdiction question delays charges in girl's death

Posted November 18, 2009 7:35 a.m. EST
Updated November 18, 2009 11:26 p.m. EST

— Fayetteville Police Chief Tom Bergamine said Wednesday that no new charges will be filed in the death of 5-year-old Shaniya Davis until authorities figure out where she was killed.

Shaniya was reported missing from her home, at 1116-A Sleepy Hollow Drive in Fayetteville, by her mother on Nov. 10. Volunteer searchers found her body Monday afternoon in the woods off N.C. Highway 87 near the Lee-Harnett county line.

No cause of death has been released.

Two people have been arrested in her disappearance – charges against a third person were dropped – but no one has been charged with killing her.

Prosecutors in Cumberland and Lee counties met Wednesday afternoon to discuss how to handle the case. They must prove where the girl was killed to establish legal jurisdiction to prosecute someone in her death.

"This is a very complex case, unfortunately, that reaches out over the city of Fayetteville, counties (and) federal jurisdictions," Bergamine said. "Several details regarding this investigation have a direct impact on which county will assume jurisdiction in prosecuting this case."

He declined to answer questions about the investigation.

Sanford police and Lee County Sheriff's Office investigators have referred all questions to Fayetteville police. Prosecutors in Cumberland and Lee counties couldn't be reached Wednesday for comment.

Separately, Fayetteville police arrested a man who was allegedly using Shaniya's name to collect money from drivers on McPherson Church and Skibo roads. Donald Roddy Jr., 36, of Hypony Trail in Parkton, was charged with obtaining property by false pretense.

Two held in girl's disappearance

Police arrested Mario Andrette McNeill, 29, on Friday and charged him with first-degree kidnapping in the case. Investigators said McNeill has admitted to taking Shaniya from her home, and Nov. 10 video from a hotel security camera in a Comfort Suites in Sanford appears to show him carrying her.

In an affidavit for a warrant to search McNeill's 1997 Mitsubishi Galant, investigators said McNeill told them he picked Shaniya up in front of her home and drove her to the hotel. Investigators also said they found feces smeared on the outside door handle of the front door to the home and on the handrail of the steps to the front porch.

Police recovered 11 pieces of trace evidence, such as hair and fibers, from the car, as well as clothes, a belt, a straw, a cell phone and a portable GPS system, according to the search warrant.

Shaniya's mother, Antoinette Nicole Davis, 25, was arrested late Saturday and charged with human trafficking, felony child abuse–prostitution, filing a false police report and obstructing a police investigation. Arrest warrants state that Davis "did knowingly provide Shaniya with the intent that she be held in sexual servitude" and she "did permit an act of prostitution with Shaniya."

Both McNeill and Davis are being held in isolation at the Cumberland County Detention Center for their protection, authorities said.

Authorities confirmed Tuesday that Davis is pregnant and that Clarence Coe is the father of the child.

Davis initially accused Coe of kidnapping Shaniya, but police dismissed the charge and released him from jail after determining the information to be false.

Suspect off probation when arrested

McNeill was convicted in April 2008 of drug possession, speeding to elude arrest and assaulting a government official. He was placed on probation for two years but was taken off probation in October – six months early, according to Wayne Marshburn, the Cumberland County director for the state Division of Community Corrections.

Marshburn said McNeill did everything he was supposed to do while under supervision, so probation officers recommended that he be released early and a judge agreed. Cumberland County has 56 probation officers to keep tabs on about 3,500 people, Marshburn said, so they have to move people off probation who are complying with the rules to take on new cases.

"I'm satisfied, as far as that particular issue, that we did what we needed to do in the case," he said. "I don't think anyone who ever worked with him would have anticipated this event."

Teachers at Pauline Jones Elementary School likely wouldn't have expected it either. McNeill was seen as a promising student there and was placed in a program for academically gifted children.

He also attended Hillcrest Middle School and Terry Sanford High School before starting a small electrical company, according to his sister, Tijuana McNeill.

"I feel bad for the other side, and I feel bad he is caught up in it," Tijuana McNeill said.

Mario McNeill was convicted in 2003 of three counts of assault in connection with a triple shooting and several drug charges and was placed on probation, according to state Department of Correction records. He violated probation and was in prison from October 2003 to May 2006.

He also was placed on probation following a January 2007 conviction on another drug charge.

"People that we supervise, in spite of everything we do, they're still going to commit crimes," Marshburn said. "That's disturbing."

DSS investigated mother

A search of court records turned up no previous criminal charges against Davis, but she lived at a home on Wall Street in July that police raided. Officers found "narcotics manufacturing materials" in the house, but no one was charged, according to an incident report.

Neighbors said McNeill was frequently seen with Davis on Mary Street, where Davis lived with her mother before moving to Sleepy Hollow Drive.

The Cumberland County Department of Social Services previously investigated Davis with regard to her 7-year-old son, not Shaniya, according to her uncle, Michael Davis. The case was closed, and Antoinette Davis was able to retain custody of the boy, her uncle said.

DSS Director Brenda Jackson declined to comment on her agency's involvement with the Davis family, citing the criminal investigation into Shaniya's death as well as confidentiality rules for child protective services cases.

Shaniya lived with her father, Bradley Lockhart, and his sister until early October, when Lockhart agreed to let her live with her mother. He said Davis had been trying to improve her life and wanted to be a mother to Shaniya.

About that same time, Shaniya was pulled out of the kindergarten at Morganton Road Elementary School. She wasn't re-enrolled at another public school in Fayetteville, officials said.

Prayer service held in Fayetteville

A crowd gathered Wednesday evening at the Faith Community Church in Fayetteville to remember Shaniya.

“We pray that comfort will be brought to the Lockhart family,” Rev. Timothy Hall, with Faith Community Church, said.

As the investigation into Shaniya’s death moves forward, Hall said people should draw upon their faith for strength.

“There are no right answers for this," he said. "We sing about it all the time, of amazing grace. This is when we lean heavily upon him (God)."