Mario McNeill declines plea deal in Shaniya Davis' murder


Mario Andretti McNeill, 32, maintained his innocence Tuesday morning despite admitting the day before that he left 5-year-old Shaniya Davis' Fayetteville home in November 2009 with the girl and took her to a Sanford motel.

McNeill faces 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 related to Shaniya's death. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

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

Jury selection got underway Monday morning, but the state said it would skip the trial and go straight to sentencing if McNeill entered a guilty plea.

The change came in light of a denied motion in which McNeill's previous attorney, Allen Rogers, allowed him 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.

Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons 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 have meant a life sentence for McNeill.

Now, potential jurors will continue to be questioned about their beliefs on the death penalty. Eighty-seven potential jurors were interviewed Monday. None of them were chosen.

On Tuesday, potential jurors were questioned, in a group setting, about their personal lives and beliefs regarding the death penalty.

Then they were brought in one by one to talk about what they'd seen reported on this case, and what kind of conversations, if any, they'd had about it.

The defense pushed to get rid of two jurors in particular.

One woman said is a volunteer with the Fayetteville Police Department and actually searched for Shaniya the day she went missing. She was dismissed because of her closeness to the case.

Another woman is the relative of missing Fayetteville woman Michelle Powell, and also said she had a young relative who was the victim of molestation.

The judge allowed her to stay despite the defense's argument that her personal stories were "too close" to this case.

No permanent jurors have been named.

Jury selection is expected to last two to three weeks. About 15 or 16 jurors are slated to be selected, with three alternates.

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

The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks.

Davis, 28, will be tried after McNeill on charges including first-degree murder, child abuse, sexual servitude, human trafficking and child rape. Her trial is expected to last about a month. If convicted, Davis faces life in prison without parole.

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