Mario McNeillThe early January snow storm disrupted scheduled oral arguments before the North Carolina Supreme Court. Mario McNeill’s lawyers were to ask that his convictions for the 2009 rape and murder of 5-year-old Shaniya Davis be thrown out. The cases set for review this month were carried over to mid-February. McNeill’s hearing has not been reset. McNeill, 36, was convicted by a Cumberland County Superior Court jury in May 2013 and sentenced to death by the same jury. The little girl was reported missing from her Fayetteville home by her mother, Antoinette Davis. Davis sold Shaniya to McNeill to pay off a $200 debt. She was sentenced to serve at least 17 years in prison for second-degree murder, human trafficking of a minor and other charges.
Volunteer searchers eventually found the child’s body in a wooded area off N.C. Highway 87 near the Lee-Harnett County line. Searchers and their dogs had passed by the area without finding the girl’s remains until McNeill’s lawyers told police where to look. And that’s the crux of his new attorney’s appeal, reports the Associated Press. The lawyers contend his conviction was all but assured when McNeill’s lawyers told authorities where to find Shaniya’s body, the hope being that prosecutors would go easier on him. McNeill professed his innocence ... insisting that he did not kill the child. At trial, he told judge Jim Ammons that he didn’t want anyone to speak on his behalf during his sentencing. Saying he fully understood that he could be sentenced to death, McNeill said, “My goal was freedom. I lost my freedom. What does it matter after that?” He presented no defense during his 12-day trial. Ammons said “You understand you are completely and totally tying your lawyers’ hands?” Defense attorney Terry Alford said McNeill instructed him not to participate in the sentencing hearing or offer any closing. District Attorney Billy West pressed the case without concessions and McNeill was convicted of first degree murder, kidnapping, rape, human trafficking of a minor, sexual servitude of a minor and taking indecent liberties with a child.
Jurors took two days to determine his guilt, handing down the death sentence. The jury deliberated less than 40 minutes before deciding that McNeill should die for suffocating the 5-year-old. “I submit to you, without hesitation, that the only punishment appropriate in this case – for these crimes – is the death penalty,” Assistant District Attorney Robby Hicks said in his closing argument. Under North Carolina law, a jury’s unanimous decision is binding on the presiding judge.
The Supreme Court could throw out McNeil’s conviction on the grounds his initial legal assistance was ineffective and ruined his claim of innocence, McNeill’s lawyers said. North Carolina hasn’t executed any of the 150 convicted killers on death row because of various legal challenges. Condemned killers get automatic reviews of their cases by the state Supreme Court

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