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Jury shown Shaniya Davis' body

Mario McNeal listens to testimony.
May 6, 2013 9:00:00 PM PDT
Jurors in the Mario McNeill trial looked visibly uncomfortable Tuesday as they were shown video of crime scene investigators recovering the body of 5-year-old Shaniya Davis.

State Bureau of Investigation agent Chad Royal testified he arrived at the scene at 2:50 p.m. on November 16, 2009 and the body wasn't removed until nearly 8:30. Royal said it took a lot of manpower to work at the scene because of thick vegetation and muddy ground.

Prosecutors allege McNeill took the Fayetteville child from her home in the early morning hours of November 10 to rape her at a motel in Sanford before killing her and dumping her body just off N.C. Highway 87 near the Lee-Harnett County line. Searchers finally located the child's remains after getting a tip on where to look from McNeill's former attorneys.

The area where the body was found is known to be a place where deer hunters dump animal remains, and Agent Royal testified Tuesday that Shaniya's body was partially under a log, near bags of deer carcasses and a river, with part of her feet submerged in the water.

"It took several people to remove the log," said Royal.

Royal said the body was hidden in a thick patch of kudzu.

"If you were standing in the middle of it, you could not see the ground," he said.

Shaniya was clothed in a dark-colored shirt with pink underwear. Royal said there were vines and vegetation intertwined around the body. Once the log was removed, the vines were cut off her body with cutting shears, but they left some leaves stuck to her to send to the Medical Examiner's office. Her hands were covered with brown bags to preserve DNA evidence that may have been under her fingernails.

Royal said there were no tire tracks or shoe impressions collected near the body. Due to condition of the muddy ground, and the fact that so many people had trekked through to find her body, gathering shoe impressions was difficult.

The defense challenged whether scene was contaminated by volunteers during cross-examination.

Later Tuesday, an FBI agent talked about interrogating McNeill.

"He denied that he went to Brenda Davis's trailer. He denied that he had Shaniya or even saw her, or that he had left city limits or had been in the Sanford hotel," said the agent who the court ordered not be identified.

The agent said McNeill was shown surveillance video from the Sanford hotel that pictured him carrying Shaniya towards an elevator. McNeill initially denied it was him and said point blank, 'That's not me.'

But he later admitted going to the child's home to pick her up and then taking her to the hotel in Sanford where he did cocaine.

"He said the hotel was a waiting spot," said the agent.

He later claimed he got a call from unknown people to bring her back to Fayetteville and drop her off next to a dry cleaners - and those people were waiting for him in a grey Nissan Maxima. McNeill claimed that was when he last saw the child.

After the court took its lunch break - and outside the presence of the jury - prosecutors told the judge that McNeill spoke to the FBI agent witness during the break - calling him a liar.

"I ask that the defendant not say these things to my witness," said prosecutor Robbie Hicks.

"I asked why he was lying," McNeill told the judge.

Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons then said he had noticed that people sitting in the public section behind the defense table and McNeill's mother Juanita Ball were laughing and making inappropriate comments and gestures during the testimony about the child's body.

Ball told Judge Ammons the people were not with her.

"I'm not going to tolerate this," said Ammons.

"It's not in your client's interest to speak to the witness," he continued.

McNeill is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree rape of a child, first-degree kidnapping, human trafficking with a child victim, sexual servitude with a child victim, sexual offense of a child and indecent liberties with a child charges.

Prosecutors have also charged Shaniya's mother Antoinette Davis with selling her daughter to McNeill to pay a drug debt. Davis hasn't been tried yet.

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