McDaniel entitled to bond on murder charge, attorneys contend

Telegraph staffMarch 16, 2012 

Attorneys for Stephen McDaniel, the suspect in the Lauren Giddings slaying, are seeking bond for their client on the murder charge.

They contend that McDaniel is entitled to a bond because a grand jury did not indict him within 90 days of his Aug. 2 arrest.

Since the district attorney’s office didn’t request more time, McDaniel must be granted a bond and the district attorney’s office can’t object, according to a motion filed Thursday in Bibb County Superior Court.

“Any request by the state that bond be denied is now moot because untimely,” the motion said.

But even if a judge grants McDaniel a bond on the murder charge, he won’t necessarily be set free until trial.

McDaniel, 26, was indicted Nov. 15 on one count of murder and 30 counts of sexual exploitation of children. No bond has been set on the exploitation charges.

Grand jurors indicted McDaniel on those charges 84 days after his arrest.

He was charged with two counts of burglary July 2. McDaniel has not been indicted on the burglary charges.

McDaniel faces the death penalty if convicted of killing Giddings, a 27-year-old Maryland native.

Giddings, a Mercer law classmate of McDaniel’s, had been his next-door neighbor at the Barristers Hall apartments on Georgia Avenue for nearly three years.

Investigators found Giddings’ dismembered torso in a garbage can outside her apartment on June 30, hours after her friends and family, having not heard from her for more than four days, reported her missing.

Franklin J. Hogue, one of McDaniel’s lawyers, said he has never heard of a Georgia death penalty defendant being released on bond.

“It may have happened, ... but I’ve never seen it,” he said.

But, McDaniel’s case is the first capital case Hogue has handled in which prosecutors neither indicted within 90 days nor requested an extension. Hogue has taken six death cases to trial.

Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, District Attorney Greg Winters said he had not finished reading a copy of the bond motion. He reserved comment until then.

Floyd Buford, McDaniel’s other attorney, said the defense thought it was an appropriate time to file the motion.

“He’s a candidate for bond under the law and I think Judge (S. Phillip) Brown is getting back in his office some,” Buford said. Brown has been on medical leave following heart surgery.

Judges typically consider whether a defendant is a flight risk, a danger to the community, a risk to commit other crimes or to intimidate witnesses or victims.

Fred Bright, district attorney for the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit, said that since the 1980s never has a defendant been granted bond in the more than two dozen death penalty cases he has helped prosecute.

Even in noncapital murder cases, he said, bond “is rare.”

Still, Bright said, “You’re sitting in jail without a bond. If you don’t ask for a bond, you’re gonna stay in jail. If you file a motion for bond, it’s a very slim chance you might get a bond. But if you get a bond, then you’ll be out. But if you don’t get a bond, you’re back where you were to begin with in a jail. So from a defendant’s perspective or a defense lawyer’s perspective, you have nothing to lose.”

In the past year, Hogue has defended two clients in murder cases not involving the death penalty in which district attorneys had failed to indict within 90 days. A judge in Spalding County issued a $500,000 bond in one case, while a Taylor County judge issued a $400,000 bond in the other, Hogue said.

The family of the client with the $400,000 bond posted a property bond and the client was released.

Hogue said that in McDaniel’s case, he expects there will be “great efforts made to prevent the granting and posting of bond and release” of the Lilburn native. Hogue said he thinks prosecutors will “scurry to do everything they can” to keep McDaniel behind bars.

Hogue, however, said it would be “virtually unheard of” for McDaniel to be freed while he awaits trial.

A county jail inmate granted bond can post bail in one of three ways.

The person can offer property collateral. The person can also pay a bonding company 10 percent of the bond in exchange for the company’s posting the cash amount of the bond. The inmate also can pay the full cash amount out of pocket.

Pataula Circuit Superior Court Judge Ronnie Joe Lane was assigned March 6 to determine whether Brown properly assigned himself to preside over McDaniel’s case.

In January, prosecutors asked that Brown review the guidelines that determine how judges come to oversee Bibb death penalty cases and to hold a hearing.

Buford said McDaniel’s defense team doesn’t object to Brown’s being the judge on the case.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398. To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.

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