Local News

Plea deal offered in Fayetteville girl's 2009 death

Posted April 8, 2013 5:00 a.m. EDT
Updated April 22, 2013 2:21 p.m. EDT

Shaniya Nicole Davis

— As jury selection began Monday in the capital murder case of the man accused of raping and killing a 5-year-old Fayetteville girl more than three years ago, prosecutors offered a plea deal to end what is expected to be a two-month trial.

Mario Andrette McNeill, 32, of Pine Springs Drive in Fayetteville, has been charged with murder, kidnapping and rape in the death of Shaniya Davis. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

Prosecutors said they wouldn't seek the death penalty against McNeill if he pleads guilty. The defense has until Tuesday to accept or reject the deal.

The deal came after Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons denied a request from defense attorneys that the case proceed as a non-capital trial.

Public defenders Harold "Butch" Pope and Terry Alford argued that McNeill's previous lawyer allowed him to make statements that helped investigators find Shaniya's body under an agreement that the death penalty wouldn't be pursued in the case.

Ammons said there is no evidence of such an agreement.

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, who was seen with the girl on a Sanford hotel security camera hours after her disappearance, later surrendered to police after investigators contacted his family. Police said he confessed to abducting her.

Dressed in a green polo shirt in court on Monday, McNeill said he wouldn't dispute that he left the Sleepy Hollow Mobile Home Park with Shaniya and that he took her to the hotel in Sanford and later left with her.

He has denied killing her.

An autopsy determined that Shaniya died of asphyxiation and that injuries she suffered were consistent with a sexual assault. A medical examiner noted in the autopsy that investigators believe the girl was used to pay off a drug debt.

Shaniya's father, Bradley Lockhart, and McNeill's mother were in court Monday.

Jury selection in the case is expected to last at least a week, as prosecutors and defense attorneys question the 97 prospective jurors at length about their views on capital punishment. The trial itself is expected to last another six to eight weeks.

Authorities say Antoinette Davis was complicit in her daughter's death. Arrest warrants state that she "did knowingly provide Shaniya with the intent that she be held in sexual servitude" and "did permit an act of prostitution with Shaniya."

Davis 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, and prosecutors aren't seeking the death penalty against her.

Shaniya's disappearance and death drew national headlines and focused a spotlight on human trafficking in the U.S.

The Cumberland County Department of Social Services came under fire, with prosecutors and Fayetteville police accusing the agency of withholding information about social workers' contact with Shaniya's family while authorities were still searching for the girl. The local DSS chairman later resigned.