McNeill won't defend against death penalty for Shaniya Davis' murder

May 28, 2013 2:47:17 PM PDT
Mario McNeill went against the advice of his legal team Tuesday and told a judge he will not present any evidence or call witnesses in the penalty phase of his trial.

The jury in his case found the 33 year old guilty last week of first-degree murder in the death of 5-year-old Shaniya Davis.

Prosecutors say in 2009, McNeill took the child from her Fayetteville home to sexually assault her at a motel in Sanford before killing her and dumping her body in an area known to be a place where deer hunters dump carcasses just off N.C. Highway 87 near the Lee-Harnett County line.

McNeill was found not guilty of first-degree rape of a child, but guilty of 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.

The jury is now being asked to decide if McNeill should get the death penalty or be sentenced to life in prison. Normally in such cases, both the prosecution and the defense call witnesses and present evidence during a trial's penalty phase.

But McNeill's lawyers said that would not be the case now.

"Our client has informed us, he has instructed us, that we are not to participate in the sentencing hearing," defense attorney Terry Alford told Judge Jim Ammons.

Alford said the move not to present evidence, call witnesses, or make any closing argument was against his professional advice.

Ammons questioned McNeill - asking why he didn't want his attorneys to put on a case.

"I could, but no, I don't want to," McNeill responded.

Judge: "I see you smile when you're saying that. Do you understand how serious this is?"
McNeill: "Yes."
Judge: "The death penalty in North Carolina is real."
Judge: "Because we haven't put on a death penalty in a long time doesn't mean we don't have a death penalty."

Ammons asked McNeill to turn around and look at his mom. He turned and smiled at his mother Juanita Ball.

"I don't want you to testify on my behalf. Love you," McNeill told her.

"Love you," Ball responded.

Ammons said he will still submit mitigating factors to jury, by law, but some will miss being in evidence because the lawyers are not involved.

"Tell me why you won't let your lawyers help you," Ammons said to McNeill.

"My goal was freedom. I lost my freedom. It doesn't matter after that," said McNeill.

After McNeill's announcement, prosecutors presented their case for why he should get the death penalty.

Among the witnesses to testify was Shaniya's father Brad Lockhart. He said he was out of town when the murder occurred. He recounted what it was like when he returned and got the news.

"Putting words to it, this is extremely difficult because losing a child is probably one of the hardest things anyone can go through," Lockahart told jurors.

He said the stress caused medical problems, including collapsed lungs.

The jury will begin deliberations Wednesday after the state does closings arguments. There will be no closing from the state per McNeill's request.

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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