McNeill convicted in death of 5-year-old girl

May. 23, 2013 @ 08:45 PM

A Cumberland County jury found a man guilty Thursday of kidnapping and murdering a 5-year-old Fayetteville girl almost four years ago.

The eight-man, four-woman jury returned a not guilty verdict on a child rape charge against Mario McNeill. The decision was handed down around 3 p.m. Thursday, ending deliberations that spanned two days.

Jurors will now hear evidence before deciding whether McNeill should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. Judge Jim Ammons told jurors to return Tuesday morning to begin hearing arguments and testimony in a sentencing hearing.

Defense attorneys argued that while McNeill may have taken Shaniya Davis by car to Sanford, where he got a hotel room with her, he did not harm her. McNeill presented no evidence in his defense.

But authorities said Shaniya's mother, Antoniette Davis, gave the child to McNeill to settle a drug debt then falsely reported that she was missing from their Fayetteville trailer.

The state said McNeill took Shaniya to the Comfort Suites in Sanford before assaulting her, killing her and dumping her body.

Shaniya's body was found on Nov. 16, 2009, in a kudzu patch off N.C. Highway 87 on the Lee-Harnett county line, six days after she was reported missing.

Antoniette Davis is accused of giving her daughter to McNeill to pay off a drug debt. She has not yet gone to trial.