The man accused in one of the most notorious murders in the state has declined an 11th hour plea deal.
Mario Andretti McNeill, 32, maintained his innocence Tuesday morning, after the state said Monday it would skip the trial and go straight to sentencing if he entered a guilty plea.
McNeill faces first-degree murder, first-degree rape of a child and other charges related to the death of 5-year-old Shaniya Davis. He could face the death penalty if convicted.
In November 2009, Shaniya was given up by her mother to allegedly settle a drug debt. Authorities said the girl was raped and murdered and then dumped just off Highway 87 near the Lee-Harnett county line.
Jury selection got underway Monday morning, but the state decided it would skip the trial and go straight to sentencing if McNeill entered a guilty plea.
The change came in light of a denied motion in which McNeill's previous attorney, Allen Rogers, allowed him to make statements to investigators that helped find Shaniya's body. This was, according to the defense, under the assumption that the state would take the death penalty off the table. However, that did not happen.
Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons decided there was no evidence of this agreement. In turn, the defense wants all evidence -- GPS, telephone records, and statements -- taken out as evidence.
Prosecutors then said if McNeill would plead guilty, they would go straight to sentencing, which would have meant a life sentence for McNeill.
Now, potential jurors will continue to be questioned about their beliefs on the death penalty. Eighty-seven potential jurors were interviewed Monday. None of them were chosen.
Jury selection is expected to last two to three weeks. About 15 or 16 jurors are slated to be selected, with three alternates.
There's a chance McNeill could testify, but it will be determined further along in the trial.
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