Shaniya Davis: McNeill Says He’s Innocent and Refuses a Plea Deal as Nine Out of the Twelve Are Chosen for the Jury, But There’s a Problem

Well, all my fears about Mario McNeill copping a plea deal in the Shaniya Davis case were unfounded.  He thinks that he is innocent and will be exonerated by his attorneys from the evidence, so the trial is continuing to go forward.  Seven jurors were chosen yesterday and two today, but a jury controversy has arisen, among other items.  Why?  Because the prospective jurors were talking amongst themselves about the news coverage, and that has a bearing on whether they can be impartial.  Judge Jim Ammons thought confidently that he could let the jurors go on unsequestered, but he’s going to have to repeat “his orders to refrain from having conversations or reading and watching news about the case.”  He needs 12 jurors and 3 alternates in all.

Twenty-four prospective jurors were dismissed Wednesday.

The last one was a woman who said she had looked at headlines and accompanying photographs on the front of copies of The Fayetteville Observer in a newspaper box near an entrance to the Cumberland County Courthouse.

She told Ammons that she had twice seen the front of the newspaper while entering the courthouse this week. This came after she had been directed to refrain from any media coverage of the trial.

“I think one thing,” she said to the judge, “I would be iffy about pleading guilty.”

“All right,” Ammons said. “Thank you very much.”

Her indiscretion came to light while defense lawyer Harold “Butch” Pope was questioning her. At the time, Pope was vetting prospective jurors.

The woman said she believed two other members of the jury pool were with her Wednesday when she saw the newspaper that headlined a plea deal offered by the state to McNeill. She also cited a separate incident.

“All right,” Ammons said after she left the courtroom, “if I’m looking at this right, she’s looked at the paper twice and discussed the case twice.”

She was excused for cause.

To be a juror in a case this serious, you have to show not only the air but the inclination to be impartial and to be unfazed—uninfluenced by individuals, activities and events.  You have to eschew the heavy glare of lights and not mistake them for the limelight.  It’s not about you when it comes to deciding a guilty plea on someone’s life.  Otherwise, the defense would have grounds for an appeal for jury contamination, and I’m sure a lot of people have seen guilty verdicts thrown out for just this kind of thing.

One last thing, though, and this from Fayetteville Observer columnist Bill Kirby, Jr.; he thinks Mario McNeill is taking a big risk by not choosing to plead guilty.  I would tend to agree, but I want everything possible aired out.  McNeill thinks that he can weasel out of a murder rap on a technicality?  I know that he’s highly intelligent, but even highly intelligent people aren’t that crafty.  If he had raped the girl, and then she died accidentally while in his custody, this should have come out at the beginning.  However, Shaniya’s demise has been so swathed in secrecy, I have no doubt believing that even that did not occur.

McNeill, according to his lawyers, does not deny taking the child to the motel.

He does deny the rape.

He does deny the murder.

Prosecutors say different.

“This is a case of a rape and/or sex offense against a 5-year-old victim who was helpless to prevent her asphyxiation,” West said in October 2011. “Her body was left in a ditch after she was asphyxiated, and this was done, allegedly, by someone she knew and perhaps even trusted.”

And that someone, he says, is Mario Andrette McNeill, and the state wants equal justice for an innocent child – a life for a life.

“It didn’t surprise me,” West, 38, later said Monday about McNeill’s decision to put his destiny in 12 jurors’ hands. “He’s been adamant.”

So, jury selection resumes.

McNeill studied potential jurors Tuesday with attentive eyes and listened closely as many told prosecutors that they can listen fairly to the evidence, and if necessary, they have no problem imposing a life sentence.

Or, if necessary, death.

At this writing, jury selection has resumed after 1 p.m. Central Time.  I’ll check in tonight with anything else that has occurred during today’s proceedings.

~ by blksista on April 11, 2013.

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