McNeill sentenced to death for murder of Shaniya Davis

McNeill sentenced to death for murder of Shaniya Davis

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Mario McNeil, 33, is guilty of first-degree murder, kidnapping, sexual servitude with malice, sexual offense with a child and human trafficking. Mario McNeil, 33, is guilty of first-degree murder, kidnapping, sexual servitude with malice, sexual offense with a child and human trafficking.
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -

A man convicted of murder in the death of a 5-year-old girl has been sentenced to death -- a sentence that has not been handed down in North Carolina since 2011.

Mario McNeil, 33, was found guilty last week of six of seven charges in the death of Shaniya Davis. McNeill was accused of raping and killing the 5-year-old, but jurors did not convict McNeill on the rape charge.

On Wednesday, Judge James Ammons Jr. accepted the jury's recommendation that McNeill be put to death on the charges.

"You did not have to kill that child," Ammons said to McNeill before having him escorted out of the courtroom following the sentencing.

Prior to sentencing, Ammons asked if anyone would like to speak, at which point Shaniya's father Brad Lockhart, took the stand to directly address McNeill.

"I can never get Shaniya back. You've taken that from me," Lockhart, 42, said. "You were the last thing my daughter got to look at."

"The media's glorified you as you walk in the courtroom with your little antics and your smirks and your smiles - waving your hands around like you're free at last. Well you ain't free," Lockhart continued. "I'm not going to worship you. I'm just going to pray for you." Lockhart said.

Ammons also took a moment to address Lockhart, Shaniya's older half-sister Cheyenne Lockhart and their friends and supporters. He told them he could not give them true justice.

"Justice would be if I could reverse all of this and I can't," Ammons said. "I've said a prayer for you every night of this trial, and I will continue to do so."

During his closing argument in the sentencing phase of the trial District Attorney Billy West said McNeill showed no remorse for Shaniya's death.

"He showed no regard for her innocence when he kidnapped her from her home in the middle of the night," West said in closing arguments Wednesday. "He showed no regard for her life when he murdered her and left her along desolate Walker Road."

McNeill is the first person sentenced to death in North Carolina since 2011, when 12 capital trials resulted in three death sentences. There were on four capital trials in 2012.

The state has not carried out an execution since 2006.

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McNeill's sentencing comes three and a half years after Shaniya was reported missing by her mother from a Fayetteville mobile home park.

Authorities say that Shaniya's mother, Antoinette Nicole Davis, gave her daughter to McNeill to settle a drug debt. The state argued that McNeill assaulted and killed Shaniya at a Sanford hotel before dumping her body in a kudzu patch off N.C. Highway 87 in Lee County.

Shaniya's body was found on Nov. 16, 2009, six days after she was reported missing.

In 2011, a Cumberland County grand jury indicted Antoinette Davis on charges of first-degree murder, felony sexual servitude, human trafficking, indecent liberties with a child, felony child abuse, rape of a child, sexual offense of a child by an adult offender and making a false police report.

Prosecutors will not seek the death penalty for Antoinette Davis if convicted.

Following a bizarre start, jurors heard nearly four weeks of arguments and testimony about the murder before finding McNeill guilty May 23 on charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping, sexual servitude with malice, sexual offense with a child, human trafficking and indecent liberties with a child.

Ammons postponed the start of opening statements so that McNeill could undergo a medical evaluation at two state-operated psychiatric facilities. McNeill's defense requested the mental evaluations when lawyers became concerned about his demeanor during jury selection.

McNeill told psychologists he had special powers that allowed him to have extra sensory perceptions, such as feeling electromagnetic fields. Specifically, he told doctors about "Sophia," a deity-type being that he senses and sees. McNeill said "Sophia" helps him sense things about the world.

Still, Ammons ruled that Mario McNeill is competent to stand trial.

During the sentencing phase, McNeill asked that his attorneys not participate in that part of the trial, including no statements or testimony. McNeill's attorneys disagreed with the decision and asked the judge to grant them permission despite their client's request.

Ammons asked McNeill Tuesday if he understood the seriousness surrounding his circumstances. When asked why he did not want to present anything during the sentencing phase, McNeill responded, "My goal was freedom. I lost my freedom. What does it matter after that?"

Just a day prior to McNeill's sentencing, a judiciary committee approved a measure that repeals an act to allow condemned North Carolina inmates to challenge death sentences on racial grounds.

The Racial Justice Act allows a judge to reduce a death sentence to life in prison if race is found to be a significant factor in the original sentence.

Four inmates have successfully appealed for life sentences.

Supporters of the original law cite studies concluding racial bias has played a role in death sentences in the state. Those wishing to repeal the law say the measure has created a costly logjam that has been abused.

The bill has already passed the Senate.

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Brandon Herring

Brandon is a North Carolina native and UNC alum who lives in Fayetteville, and covers Cumberland County and the Sandhills. Returning to North Carolina to work as a journalist is a dream come true for Brandon. More>>

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