Hacksaw linked to McDaniel in Giddings case, warrant says

Telegraph staffAugust 4, 2011 

The aspiring young lawyer had become the accused.

On Wednesday afternoon, Stephen Mark McDaniel stood still, facing a judge at the Bibb County jail as the murder charge levied against him 16 hours earlier was made official.

Meanwhile, 600 or so miles away in Maryland, the father of his alleged victim, 27-year-old Lauren Giddings, pondered McDaniel’s fate.

“Even the people that have known him in the past three years, they never saw it coming. ... Stephen seemed to be harmless,” Bill Giddings said.

“As every day went on, every phone call I got (from police), it kept leaning his way, with heavier and heavier weight until I guess the shoe dropped” Tuesday.

An arrest warrant issued late Tuesday charging McDaniel with murder says police recovered a hacksaw at the Barristers Hall apartment complex where he and Giddings were next-door neighbors. The warrant says investigators also found the saw’s packaging material inside McDaniel’s apartment.

Subsequent tests on the hacksaw by FBI experts revealed traces of Giddings’ DNA, according to a law enforcement officer familiar with the warrant.

“From what I know, (the slaying) seems that it had to be planned,” Bill Giddings said. “The cover-up was extensive. ... I think we know a lot and can prove a lot.”

McDaniel, 25, and Giddings both graduated from Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law in May.

Charges against McDaniel, who has been in jail since July 1 on unrelated burglary allegations, were upgraded Tuesday night when authorities informed him that he was the man they believe killed Giddings, cut her body apart and hid -- or tried to hide -- her remains at some point during the last week of June.

Authorities found Giddings’ torso in a garbage bin beside her apartment building on Georgia Avenue in downtown Macon on June 30. The search for the rest of her, which has led to landfills in Bibb and Twiggs counties, vacant lots and a riverbed, has turned up no other remains.

Now, as he and his family prepare for the funeral of the eldest of his three girls, Bill Giddings worries that her remains might never be found.

He isn’t to the point of making a personal plea to see if “he (McDaniel) would tell where the rest of her is.”

“You know, I’m not a big death penalty guy, but ... if his lawyer said something about it, that they’ll be cooperative if we don’t ask for the death penalty, I probably wouldn’t hesitate,” Bill Giddings, 56, said.

* * *

McDaniel’s arraignment lasted less than five minutes Wednesday. His family from Lilburn, present at a hearing last month regarding the burglary charges against him, was not back in court.

The new charge of felony murder brought against McDaniel means that someone’s life was taken during the commission of a felony. Authorities declined to say what that felony was, though.

In court, McDaniel’s poof of brown hair rested on the shoulders of his jailhouse jumpsuit, but the beard and mustache he sported a month earlier were shaved off.

His attorney, Floyd Buford, requested a commitment hearing on McDaniel’s behalf. At that hearing, scheduled for Aug. 17, a judge will hear testimony about why McDaniel was charged in Giddings’ death.

Buford said privately that he talked with McDaniel about the murder charge before the hearing.

“He is adamant that he is innocent of these charges,” Buford said. “He is disappointed the charges have been placed on him.”

Bibb District Attorney Greg Winters said another hearing, one that had been set for Thursday regarding bail on the burglary charges against McDaniel, has been canceled.

McDaniel, who has been held in a cell by himself in the Bibb jail’s infirmary area since his July 1 arrest, won’t be moved to a cell in the general jail population, according to the sheriff’s office.

“He’s staying right where he’s at,” said sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Sean DeFoe.

DeFoe said McDaniel’s separation from the general jail population is for his safety and due to the “high profile” nature of the Giddings case.

* * *

Winters and Macon Police Chief Mike Burns divulged few substantive details during their Wednesday afternoon news conference.

While police still are waiting on lab results from the FBI and the GBI, Burns said evidence in the slaying pointed to one perpetrator.

Asked whether other charges could be brought against McDaniel or another person, Winters said “it would be improper” to comment.

Results of a GBI analysis of computer equipment are needed before a timeline is formulated in the case, Burns said.

Prosecutors haven’t decided whether to seek the death penalty against McDaniel, said Winters, who declined to release a copy of McDaniel’s murder arrest warrant Wednesday evening, saying that a Superior Court judge had sealed or planned to seal the document.

Burns said more than 25 investigators had worked on the murder case during the past month, and that more than 30 people had been interviewed.

Police reviewed the case “page by page” during the weekend. A meeting was held with investigators Monday, and Tuesday police representatives met with the district attorney’s office and FBI, he said.

While Burns and Winters wouldn’t discuss details about evidence in the case, Burns said, “we have enough evidence to make the charge.”

Burns said the police investigation will continue until the case goes to trial.

“I hope this arrest will bring comfort to the family and the community,” Burns said.

* * *

Darrell Mann, whose wife is Giddings’ first cousin, was at the Barristers Hall complex Wednesday afternoon, picking up some of Giddings’ effects.

While he was there, Fred Golba -- an investigator whom the Giddings family has retained to help search for her remains -- was talking with members of the police department’s Crime Scene Unit. Golba, who owns Coast to Coast K9 Service, led a search Tuesday along the Ocmulgee River that didn’t yield anything.

It was unclear if Golba found anything Wednesday.

Burns said the investigators were at the apartments taking more photos of the scene, but he declined to say why.

Golba, who has worked on such high-profile cases as the Natalee Holloway disappearance and the search for missing bodies at Ground Zero after 9/11, said he thinks some of Giddings’ remains were put in a trash bin on the Mercer University law school grounds across the street.

He said he is seeking permission to search the Wolf Creek landfill in Twiggs County, where Macon police previously looked.

“It may contain parts of Lauren that we can take home,” Mann said. “We really want to take her home.”

Mann said the family brought in Golba only to help search for Giddings’ remains, not because they had issues with the how police have handled the investigation.

“This is one case where we know time is of the essence, and (Golba) is a specialist at this,” he said.

* * *

It was Burns who broke the worst news of all to Bill Giddings.

Bill Giddings’ 24-year-old middle daughter, Kaitlyn, woke him around 1 o’clock in the morning June 30. She was at her parents’ house in Laurel, Md., trying to track down her sister, Lauren.

Lauren’s friends in Georgia had found her keys and other personal items in her apartment, but no sign of her.

At about 7 the next morning, Bill Giddings started driving to Macon. Lauren’s mother, Karen, was to fly down that day and meet him.

“Just before she gets on the plane, we hear on the Internet that they had found a body,” he said.

He was already past Richmond, Va., when he got a call that “they had found something.”

“I kept going and drove as safely as you can, put it on cruise control and just tried to be safe.”

“So I knew the worst at that point, or I thought I knew the worst. I sort of gathered my thoughts and was gonna identify her and then make arrangements with the closest funeral home and just let the investigation take care of itself,” he said. “At that time, I didn’t know if it was a stabbing or if she was shot. Of course I never, ever thought it would’ve come to that.”

That Thursday night in Macon, he went to a meeting in Burns’ downtown office. There were seven or eight other police officers there, along with two male relatives of Bill Giddings’ who’d flown in.

Bill Giddings said the chief spoke for a while, “but it got to a point where he couldn’t explain why I couldn’t see (Lauren’s body), why I couldn’t identify her and why they wanted to do a DNA swab of my mouth. We just were running out of things to say after about an hour or so. And then the chief spoke up and cleared the room. He wanted to talk father to father. ... That’s when he tried to tell me about the dismemberment and the torso and so on. Of course, it broke his heart.”

The chief, Bill Giddings said, was in tears.

* * *

Barristers Hall co-owner Boni Bush, whose apartments are situated across the street from Mercer’s law school, was painting there Tuesday night, working to prepare apartments for new tenants.

A friend called and told her that McDaniel had been charged with murder.

“I was not surprised, but it did make me feel sad,” Bush said. “Stephen is different, but nobody would have used a word like ‘violent’ or ‘homicidal’ to describe him.”

Bush said she can remember throwing something in the trash can June 29, the day before Lauren Giddings’ torso was discovered, bundled in plastic, in the roll-away bin beside apartment No. 1.

Bush said she didn’t smell any foul odors.

After hanging up the phone with her friend Tuesday night, Bush called McDaniel’s mother in hopes of softening the blow.

Bush had promised to keep her up to date with news in the case. She didn’t want the mother of a former tenant to learn of the arrest from a media outlet.

“It was a hard phone call to make,” Bush said.

A couple of weeks before her son’s arrest on the murder charge, Glenda McDaniel said her son had never been in trouble.

He is a young man who’s devoted to his family and friends, she said. During his time at Mercer, McDaniel participated in drama activities and played violin in a strings ensemble.

“He would have liked to have been able to help his friend,” she said.

Before his arrest on the burglary charges, she said, he had hopes of being a prosecutor.

Reached by phone Wednesday evening, she had no comment.

Telegraph staff writers Phillip Ramati and Oby Brown contributed to this report.

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