Shaniya Davis murder trial could end before it begins

Mario McNeill
April 7, 2013 9:00:00 PM PDT
There was a major twist Monday in the trial for the man accused in one of the most notorious murders in the state.

Mario McNeill, 32, is charged with raping and killing five-year-old Shaniya Davis in Nov. 2009.

Jury selection got underway Monday morning but ABC11 has learned that the trial could be over by Tuesday.

The state is willing to skip the trial and go straight to sentencing if McNeill enters a guilty plea.

The change came in light of a denied motion in which McNeill's previous attorney, Allen Rogers, allowed McNeill to make statements to investigators that helped find Shaniya's body. This was, according to the defense, under the assumption that the state would take the death penalty off the table. However, that did not happen.

Monday, the judge decided there was no evidence of this agreement. In turn, the defense wants all evidence -- GPS, telephone records, and statements -- taken out as evidence.

Prosecutors then said if McNeill would plead guilty, they would go straight to sentencing, which would mean a life sentence for McNeill.

A decision will be made Tuesday morning.

In the meantime, potential jurors are being questioned about their beliefs on the death penalty. Eighty-seven potential jurors were interviewed Monday. None of those was chosen.

In 2009, Shaniya Davis was given up by her mother to allegedly settle a drug debt. Authorities said the 5-year-old girl was raped and murdered and then dumped just off Highway 87 near the Lee-Harnett county line.

On Monday, McNeill pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder, first-degree rape of a child, and other charges related to Shaniya's death, but acknowledged he was at the girl's Fayetteville home on November 10. He also acknowledged he was at a motel in Sanford with Shaniya and left with her.

A security camera at the motel captured McNeill with the little girl in his arms waiting for an elevator. Her body was found days later in a ditch.

Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons repeatedly asked McNeill if he understood what he was admitting to, and he repeatedly said "Yes".

Before jury selection began Monday, Judge Ammons announced that the state had dropped the felony child abuse by bodily harm and prostitution charges McNeill also faced on top of the numerous other charges. There is no word yet on what's behind that particular decision.

The state had claimed pornographic images of a minor were found on McNeill's cell phone. McNeill said the photos were of Shaniya's now 23-year-old aunt -- who admitted to dating McNeill for three months prior to Shaniya's murder -- and denied the woman was a child at the time the pictures were taken. Shaniya's aunt has denied that the photos were of her.

Judge Ammons also told Shaniya and McNeill's family and friends who were in court Monday that, "If something is happening in the courtroom and you don't like it or it upsets you, you need to leave."

Jury selection for McNeill's capital murder trial is expected to last two to three weeks. About 15 or 16 jurors are slated to be selected, with three alternates.

Dozens of witnesses will be called during the trial, which is expected to last three months.  Witnesses range from family members to detectives, and even investigators in the Virgin Islands.

There's a chance McNeill could testify, but it will be determined further along in the trial.

Shaniya's mother, 25-year-old Antoinette Davis, is also facing human trafficking and child abuse involving prostitution charges in connection with her daughter's death. It is unclear if she will testify during McNeill's trial.

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