RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — One of North Carolina’s most infamous killers of the past decade is asking the state’s highest court to overturn his convictions because his attorneys shouldn’t have told police where they could find his 5-year-old victim.
The state Supreme Court hears arguments on Jan. 9 from Mario Andrette McNeill’s lawyers, who want his convictions and death sentence for murder and other crimes thrown out. A Cumberland County jury deliberated for less than an hour in May 2013 before deciding that he should die for the 2009 death of 5-year-old Shaniya Davis.
Shaniya’s body was found in a remote kudzu patch near a place where deer hunters gut their kills, six days after her mother reported her missing from their Fayetteville mobile home. Searchers and their dogs had passed by the area without finding the girl’s body until McNeill’s lawyers told police where to look.
McNeill’s current attorneys argue his doom was assured because his lawyers relayed the information to police in hopes it might mitigate his crimes, but failed to negotiate any benefits, including getting prosecutors to exclude pursuing the death sentence.
Though McNeill was telling police he hadn’t killed the girl, “in the mere hope that cooperation with police might ultimately help Mr. McNeill avoid a death sentence, they disclosed to police the remote location of S.D.’s concealed body,” his appeals lawyers wrote.
The Supreme Court should throw out McNeil’s conviction because his initial legal assistance was ineffective and ruined his claim of innocence, McNeill’s lawyers said.
McNeil’s crimes include sexual offense with a child by adult offender, first-degree kidnapping, human trafficking of a minor, sexual servitude of a minor, and indecent liberties with a child. McNeill previously pleaded guilty to felony assault for shooting three people in 2001.
Shaniya’s mother, Antoinette Nicole Davis, sold her to McNeill to pay off a $200 debt. She was sentenced to serve least 17 years in prison for second-degree murder, human trafficking of a minor, and other charges.
McNeill offered no evidence during his trial, wanted no one to testify on his behalf before sentencing and forbade his lawyers from offering any closing arguments to jurors.
“My goal was freedom. I lost my freedom. What does it matter after that?” McNeill said in 2013.
North Carolina is rare among southern states in that it hasn’t had an execution in more than a decade because of various legal challenges.
Condemned killers get an automatic review of their case by the state Supreme Court, bypassing the lower-level appeals court. About a half-dozen are in various stages of appeal to the high court. In October, the court heard the appeal of Juan Carlos Rodriguez, who strangled and then decapitated his estranged wife.
There are 150 killers on North Carolina’s Death Row, including McNeil. He’s been one of the most recent additions to the line waiting for their execution day. The longest has been on Death Row for 31 years. The latest was added in April.