Prosecutors raise questions about judge assigned to McDaniel case

Telegraph staffJanuary 27, 2012 

Bibb County prosecutors filed a motion Thursday asking a judge to consider whether the death penalty case against Stephen McDaniel was assigned to the right judge.

In the motion, prosecutors wrote that they have “concerns that the order for assignment of cases has not been properly followed.”

Franklin J. Hogue, one of McDaniel’s attorneys, said he hadn’t seen the motion as of late Thursday afternoon and reserved comment until he can review the filing.

On Jan. 4, Chief Judge S. Phillip Brown issued an order assigning McDaniel’s case to himself.

According to an order signed by judges in the Macon Judicial Circuit in 2011, death penalty cases are to be assigned by the chief judge among all the judges on a rotating basis.

The rotation begins with the most senior judge. If a judge has an active death penalty case, the assignment may pass to the next judge in line based on seniority, according to the order.

If all judges have a pending capital case, the case being assigned goes to the most senior judge with the least number of death cases, according to the order.

Following the recent retirement of Chief Judge Martha Christian, the circuit has four judges. Brown is the most senior judge, followed in order of seniority by judges Tripp Self, Ed Ennis and Howard Simms. A judge has not been appointed to fill Christian’s spot.

All four judges have a death case. Brown and Ennis’ cases have lone defendants. Self and Simms’ cases each have two defendants.

Before her December retirement, Christian was handling the Peach County death case against Lillian Walker, 57, accused in the 2009 stabbing murders of an 85-year-old Fort Valley woman and her 65-year-old daughter.

Christian also presided at McDaniel’s December arraignment on 30 counts of sexual exploitation of children.

In Brown’s Jan. 4 order, he wrote that Walker’s case won’t be reassigned until a pre-trial appeal is complete.

McDaniel, 26, faces the death penalty for allegedly killing and dismembering Lauren Giddings, his 27-year-old neighbor and Mercer University law school classmate in late June.

Telegraph archives were used in this report.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.

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