Judge: State can seek death penalty in Shaniya Davis case

Mario McNeill appears in court for a pre-trial hearing Friday January 11, 2013. (Lou Guilette)
January 11, 2013 9:23:23 AM PST
A judge denied a motion Friday that would have prohibited prosecutors from seeking the death penalty against 5-year-old Shaniya Davis' accused killer.

Mario McNeill is charged with kidnapping, rape and first-degree murder in connection with the girl's 2009 death. He has pleaded not guilty.

Shaniya Davis' mother, Antoinette Davis, is also charged in connection with her daughter's death.

In November 2009, Antoinette Davis reported her daughter missing from her Cumberland County home. She told police someone had taken the little girl. Days later, Shaniya's body was found in a ditch in Lee County.

Investigators have said Antoinette gave Shaniya to McNeill to settle a drug debt.

A security camera captured McNeill with the 5 year old in his arms waiting for an elevator inside a motel in Sanford. He allegedly assaulted and choked the girl to death before dumping her body.

On Friday, Judge Jim Ammons also denied a motion to strike the first-degree murder charge against McNeill.

His defense team's request for a 60-day continuance in the case was also denied by the judge. They have not yet decided if they will present evidence at trial.

Jury selection is slated to start February 18 and is expected to take two to three weeks.

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