Local News

No murder charge yet in girl's death

Posted November 17, 2009 5:34 a.m. EST
Updated November 18, 2009 1:04 a.m. EST

Shaniya Nicole Davis

— A week after a 5-year-old Fayetteville girl disappeared and a day after her body was found near Sanford, police are still trying to sort out the evidence in the case to determine who to charge in her death.

Shaniya Nicole Davis was reported missing from her home, at 1116-A Sleepy Hollow Drive, by her mother last Tuesday morning. Volunteer searchers found a body Monday afternoon in some woods off N.C. Highway 87 near the Lee-Harnett county line.

On Tuesday, the State Medical Examiner's Office confirmed that the body was Shaniya's. No cause of death has been released.

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

Police said one issue holding up any charges is the question of jurisdiction in the murder case. Prosecutors must prove where a slaying occurred.

Lee County authorities have referred all questions to the Fayetteville Police Department. The department plans to address the media at 10 a.m. Wednesday, but it's unclear whether new charges will be announced then.

Two held in 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 hotel security video from a Comfort Suites in Sanford last Tuesday appears to show him carrying her.

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."

In a 911 call released Tuesday, Davis was hysterical when she told a dispatcher that her daughter was missing.

"I woke up this morning, and my daughter was not in the house. I don't know if she walked out. I don't know what going on, but she's not here," Davis said.

Later in the nearly three-minute call, her voice is completely calm as she noted twice that Shaniya knew how to unlock the front door.

"I'm telling you she knows how to unlock it. I'm hoping that she didn't unlock it and walk out," Davis told the dispatcher.

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 and then arresting McNeill.

Father, aunt: End violence against children

Shaniya's father, Bradley Lockhart, thanked everyone Tuesday afternoon for their prayers and support and thanked the Fayetteville police, other law enforcement officers and volunteers who helped find his daughter.

"It's not the result I wanted. It's not the result any father or family would want for their children," Lockhart said. "My heart hopes and bleeds and prays that this community (and) this country can possibly unite as one to prevent something like this from happening again to another special angel."

As he stood amid a shrine of flowers and teddy bears in his front yard, he said he was "appalled and disgusted" about the possibility that his daughter was sold as a sex slave.

Lockhart's sister, Carey Lockhart-Davis, urged people to help any child they see who might be in danger.

"Don't let another innocent bystander go unnoticed because we, as adults, fail to realize that they depend on us for safety and trust," Lockhart-Davis said as she choked back tears. "To every pedophile, every person who thinks of taking a child, please beware . I'll be watching."

She said she felt "robbed" because her special bond with her niece has been broken. She recalled helping Shaniya learn how to tie her shoes and color pictures.

"She had such a wonderful, kind soul, and her spirit and smile brightened every day of everyone she touched," she said.

Shaniya's death is the second family tragedy for Lockhart. Eleven years ago, his former wife, Vicki Lockhart, was one of three people killed in a home invasion in Cumberland County.

Although Lockhart said he would try to forgive Davis for Shaniya's disappearance and death, his sister said she never cared for Davis and how she cared for her children.

"Never have I allowed my children to live in an environment that was unsafe," Lockhart-Davis said.

Lockhart said he didn't want to blame anyone for Shaniya's death, saying he could have done things differently himself.

"Every parent would blame themselves. We all look within ourselves to see what we could have done differently," he said.

DSS, police probes detailed

He said, though, that he wished the Cumberland County Department of Social Services had notified him about any problems in Davis' home.

DSS looked at 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.

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.

Residents said they had seen Shaniya running around the neighborhood unattended, but Davis' family maintains she was a good parent.

"I know she’s a great mom. She’s a great mom. Antoinette really loved her children,” said Davis' uncle, Arthur Cromartie.

Cumberland County Schools officials said Shaniya was a kindergarten student at Morganton Road Elementary School until mid-October, when she was taken out of the school and wasn't enrolled elsewhere.

"We have no knowledge of what the reason was for her being withdrawn from school," Morganton Road Principal Charlotte McLaurin said.

Lockhart said he allowed Shaniya to move in with her mother on Oct. 9.

During a Monday morning interview on CBS' "Early Show," he said Davis had worked to get her life together and had been working for at least six months and gotten a place of her own.

"She had asked if she could be a mother, and I felt she was sincere in asking, and I figured to give her a chance," he said.

According to court records, Lockhart has five other children with three women. He has had custody and child support disputes involving several of the children, but there was no record of any disputes involving Shaniya or Antoinette Davis.

Tim Allen has been caring for Lockhart's 17-year-old daughter, Cheyenne. He said Tuesday evening that he told Lockhart not to send Shaniya to live with her mother.

"I feel he is 99 percent the reason why this happened in the first place,” Allen said of Shaniya’s death.

Allen said after Shaniya went to her mother’s house, he noticed marks on her arms.

"Boyfriends and his friends would put the cigarettes out on the baby's arms,” he said.

Davis worked in the kitchen at Carolina Inn at Village Green, an assisted living facility in Fayetteville.

CES, a South Carolina-based staffing company that has a contract with Carolina Inn, hired her in June 2008 after an extensive background check, an official said. She had a good employment record at both Carolina Inn and the Haymount Nursing Rehabilitation Facility, but she is no longer employed by the company, the official said.