Mario McNeill trial underway in Shaniya Davis murder


Jurors heard opening statements in the trial of Mario McNeill in a Cumberland County courtroom. McNeill is charged with raping and killing Shaniya Davis in November 2009.

Last week, Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons ruled that the 32-year-old McNeill is capable of helping in his defense.

Before opening statements, Ammons ruled Monday morning on a motion by McNeill's lawyers to prevent prosecutors from telling the jury that McNeill knew where Shaniya's body had been hidden. He said the state can tell jurors that McNeill's first two attorneys, Allen Rogers and Cory Brewer, told Fayetteville police where to find Shaniya's body, and may say those attorneys represented McNeill, but may not say where the information came from.

The ruling is based on attorney-client privilege. The judge said McNeill offered the information in expectation of a benefit (having the death penalty taken off table) that did not exist. He ruled there was never a deal presented by police or state prosecutors in exchange for information, despite what Brewer and Rogers advised him.

During the state's  opening statements, prosecutors told jurors that evidence will reveal McNeill sent text messages to a number of women in the early morning hours of November 10, 2009, the day Shaniya went missing, including two women in the Sleepy Hollow mobile home park - Shaniya's Davis's maternal aunt, and another woman.

The state says McNeill left his home, where he lived with the mother of his child, drunk and on cocaine, and headed to Sleepy Hollow to have sex with one of the women, who was asleep by the time he arrived.

That's when the state says he went to Shaniya's home, where the girl lived with the aunt McNeill texted, her boyfriend and two children, Shaniya's mother, and brother.

Prosecutors presented a timeline of what it says happened from there. McNeill allegedly took Shaniya to a Sanford hotel, telling the clerk she was his daughter, and they were in their way to Virginia to see her mother.

Surveillance photos from the hotel show McNeill carrying the girl towards an elevator. Prosecutors say he raped her in the room and then took her out to kill her and dispose of the body.

In its opening statement, the defense said McNeill only took Shaniya to Sanford, thinking he was helping the family, and doesn't know what happened from there.

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.

Authorities said the girl's body was dumped just off N.C. Highway 87 near the Lee-Harnett County line.

The trial is expected to be lengthy, with the state alone expected to argue two to three weeks. The state has 357 tagged exhibits. There are eight women and four men on the jury, and three of the four alternates are women.

Shaniya's mother also faces charges that she sold her daughter to pay a drug debt. Antoinette Davis hasn't been tried yet.

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