(CBS) FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - Mario Andretti McNeill, a man accused of raping and killing a 5-year-old Fayetteville, N.C., girl in 2009, rejected a plea deal Tuesday and said he wants to proceed with a trial, which could send him to death row if convicted, CBS affiliate WRAL reports.
Prosecutors said they wouldn't seek the death penalty against 32-year-old McNeill if he pleaded guilty. However, he maintained his innocence at Tuesday's hearing and said he did not kill Shaniya Davis, whose body was found in an overgrown area off N.C. Highway 87 near the Lee-Harnett county line on Nov. 16, 2009.
The trial is expected to last two months. McNeill is charged with murder, rape and kidnapping.
Shaniya's body was found six days after her mother, Antoinette Nicole Davis, reported her missing from their mobile home on Sleepy Hollow Drive in Fayetteville.
McNeill, who was seen with the girl on a Sanford hotel security camera hours after her disappearance, later surrendered to police after investigators contacted his family, according to the station.
McNeill reportedly said Monday that he wouldn't dispute that he left the Sleepy Hollow Mobile Home Park with Shaniya and that he took her to the hotel in Sanford and later left with her. He denied killing her.
An autopsy determined that Shaniya died of asphyxiation and that injuries she suffered were consistent with a sexual assault. A medical examiner noted in the autopsy that investigators believe the girl was used to pay off a drug debt, the station reported.
Jury selection in the case is expected to last at least a week, as prosecutors and defense attorneys question the 97 prospective jurors at length about their views on capital punishment.
Authorities say Antoinette Davis was complicit in her daughter's death. Arrest warrants state that she "did knowingly provide Shaniya with the intent that she be held in sexual servitude" and "did permit an act of prostitution with Shaniya."
Davis is charged with first-degree murder, indecent liberties with a child, felony child abuse, felony sexual servitude, rape of a child, sexual offense of a child by an adult offender, human trafficking and making a false police report. She will be tried after McNeill's case is over, and prosecutors aren't seeking the death penalty against her, according to the station.