WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — A jury has found Cornell McNeal guilty of the capital murder and rape of Letitia Davis. The verdict was read shortly after 3 p.m.
Davis died in November 2014 after the attack in Wichita’s Fairmount Park. She was found badly burned and beaten. She was able to tell investigators after the attack that she was raped.
District Attorney Marc Bennett said he was pleased with the verdict.
“Particularly happy for the family who has waited a very long time to this day. And again, just pleased with the jury who sat through several days of very graphic, upsetting images, difficult testimony, lots of heavy scientific testimony. I don’t think I’ve ever called as many Ph.D.s and MDs and forensic experts as we did in this case. So there’s a lot for the jury to wade through, so I appreciate the attention they gave it.”
After the verdict was read, the prosecutors made a presumptive sentence to pull the death penalty off the table.
“Family just couldn’t do it anymore. They just wanted this done, and I totally sympathize with it is gut-wrenching to put families through that,” Bennett said. “The sentence for a conviction for capital murder is life without parole, and that’s what the family, that’s all they really wanted.”
Jeffrey Donnley, Leticia Davis’ dad, said his family was very happy with the verdict and that this was a long time coming. He mentioned it was heartbreaking to sit through the trial and hear how the defense tried to portray Davis.
“She was happy-go-lucky, smiling all the time, and that’s what we miss seeing, hearing her voice. She was never an angry person. Just always cheerful and in my heart, that’s what I remember,” Donnley said, teary-eyed.
On Thursday morning, the prosecution and defense presented closing arguments.
The prosecution opened up with one of Letitia’s final words, “I was raped, beaten and set on fire.”
Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett ran through witness testimonies and how they aligned with the standards needed to convict McNeal of capital murder.
Meanwhile, the defense reminded the jury that they must presume McNeal is not guilty, adding if there is a single reasonable doubt, they must acquit him of the charge.
“He didn’t commit a single injury anywhere on his body, and he told you five days later, injuries won’t heal. That’s reasonable doubt. How does this woman get hurt this bad and fight back this hard and not leave a mark on Cornell McNeal? That’s reasonable doubt,” defense attorney Peter Conley said.
“You’ve heard all of the evidence. No woman consents to the injuries she sustained and that the killing was done in the condition of or subsequent to such rape. He had to kill her. He left his DNA behind,” District Attorney Marc Bennett.