Shaniya Davis Case: Mario Andretti McNeill, N.C. man accused of rape, murder of 5-year-old in 2009, on trial

Shaniya Nicole Davis
AP Photo/National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, File

(CBS) FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - Forty-one months after 5-year-old Shaniya Davis' battered body was found, the capital murder case of the man accused of raping and killing her starts Monday, CBS affiliate WRAL reports.

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Mario Andretti McNeill, 32, of Fayetteville, N.C., is charged with murder, kidnapping and rape in the death of Shaniya. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

Jury selection in the case is expected to last at least a week, as prosecutors and defense attorneys question prospective jurors at length about their views on capital punishment. The trial itself is expected to last another six to eight weeks, according to the station.

Shaniya's body was found in an overgrown area off N.C. Highway 87 near the Lee-Harnett county line on Nov. 16, 2009, 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. Police said he confessed to abducting her, according to the station.

In court on Monday, McNeill reportedly said he wouldn't dispute that he left the Sleepy Hollow Mobile Home Park with Shaniya and that he took her to the hotel and later left with 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.

Shaniya's father, Bradley Lockhart, and McNeill's mother were in court Monday.

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, the station reports.

Shaniya's disappearance and death drew national headlines and focused s a spotlight on human trafficking in the U.S.

The Cumberland County Department of Social Services came under fire, with prosecutors and Fayetteville police accusing the agency of withholding information about social workers' contact with Shaniya's family while authorities were still searching for the girl. The local DSS chairman later resigned.

Complete coverage of Shaniya Davis on Crimesider