Defense attorneys: DNA on saw may not belong to McDaniel

Telegraph staffDecember 14, 2012 

On the last morning of June 2011, when Macon police searching for Lauren Giddings flipped open a garbage can outside her apartment, they found her dismembered torso in a black trash bag clothed in cotton running shorts with nothing underneath.

Later, police found a pair of green-and-white, blood-stained panties in a dresser drawer inside the apartment of her accused killer, Stephen McDaniel.

A medical examiner would later find a few, several-inch-long brown hairs on Giddings’ abdomen. A clump of brown and blond hair was on the back of her shorts.

Giddings, 27, had blond hair. McDaniel, now 27, had shoulder-length brown hair at the time.

The two were classmates at Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law and had recently graduated.

Police detectives working the case used the details of their discoveries to get search warrants, which McDaniel’s attorneys are asking a judge to deem illegal.

The detectives’ documents were included in motions filed in Bibb County Superior Court on Friday by McDaniel’s lawyers.

The defense team’s initial salvo includes a stack of 31 motions that will be followed by more in the coming months.

Several of the motions seek to have evidence thrown out. Others attack the charges against McDaniel, who faces the death penalty if convicted of murder.

The lawyers have not asked for the trial to be moved out of town.

In one of the motions, McDaniel’s lawyers, Franklin J. Hogue and Floyd Buford, argue that prosecutors shouldn’t be seeking the death penalty.

Although prosecutors may have multiple pieces of circumstantial evidence, there’s no “smoking gun” linking McDaniel to Giddings’ slaying, the lawyers contend.

Reached by phone Friday, McDaniel’s mother declined comment.

Giddings’ sister, Kaitlyn Wheeler, said her family had known that Friday was the deadline set for the motions.

“We hope the system does us justice,” she said by phone in Giddings’ native Maryland. “Lauren believed in it, so we try to believe in it too.”

* * *

A hacksaw with Giddings’ DNA on it may not contain McDaniel’s DNA. An FBI analysis of the saw showed it had DNA from three or more people, according to one of the defense motions.

There’s a 7-in-10 chance that the DNA belongs to someone else, and because of that, the saw shouldn’t be used as evidence, McDaniel’s lawyers argue.

Early in the investigation, a Bibb County prosecutor touched the saw with his bare hand. His DNA also was sent in for analysis, according to the motion.

The analysis showed the DNA could have come from 71 percent of the Caucasian male population. Both McDaniel and the prosecutor are Caucasian.

Police found packaging for a hacksaw in McDaniel’s apartment.

Although lab results weren’t included in the documents filed Friday, police affidavits show that officers found what appeared to be blood in multiple locations.

They used the chemical luminol to detect “the possibility of substantial quantities of blood” around the tub drain in Giddings’ apartment. Blood also appeared to be splattered on the walls around Giddings’ tub, as high as 4 feet up.

When cadaver dogs searched the apartment below Giddings’ unit, police spotted what appeared to be a freshly painted wall with what seemed to be stains and smears that looked like dried blood.

Officers also noticed large, dark stains that looked like blood on the front and back seats of McDaniel’s 1997 Geo Prizm parked outside.

The defense lawyers filed a motion arguing that scratches on McDaniel’s stomach, which police suggest may have come from fingernails, might have been improperly viewed by detectives before his arrest.

Police noted in an affidavit that Giddings’ torso had “what appeared to be a superficial cut or wound to the chest.”

After hearing about McDaniel’s scratches and Giddings’ chest wound, Kristin S. Miller, a close friend of Giddings’, said, “To me that’s just evidence that she struggled. I hate to think what she went through.”

* * *

McDaniel’s lawyers also want to keep jurors from hearing about cadaver dog searches at the Georgia Avenue apartment complex where McDaniel and Giddings were next-door neighbors.

McDaniel’s lawyers say the use of dogs that sniff out human remains isn’t a technique that has “reached a scientific stage of verifiable certainty,” a requirement of state law, according to the motions.

The lawyers, in a creative flourish, contend that testimony involving the cadaver dogs’ actions, interpreted by a handler, “may turn out to fall somewhere between astrology” and an ancient Indian lie-detector test that involves tugging on a donkey’s tail.

“Even Lassie needed English-speaking humans to translate her various barks ... concerning Timmy’s falling into the well, yet again, and other mishaps and calamities of his,” the attorneys write in a footnote.

The motion mentions that two dogs alerted eight times at the apartment complex: outside Giddings’ front door and in her bathroom, in the bathroom and living room of the vacant apartment downstairs where police noted the possible blood smears, outside the apartments’ laundry-room door and inside the laundry room.

The dogs didn’t alert while along the apartment complex’s perimeter, including the area near the roll-away garbage can where Giddings’ torso was discovered just hours earlier, the motion notes.

Giddings was last heard from June 25, 2011.

McDaniel was accused of stealing condoms from his neighbors and charged with burglary on July 1, 2011. He was charged with murder a month later. Thirty counts of sexual exploitation of children were added to McDaniel’s charges after child pornography was discovered on a flash drive in his apartment.

Although a judge granted McDaniel an $850,000 bond on the murder charge, he is not eligible for a bond on the sex charges. He has been at the Bibb County jail since his first arrest.

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

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