Documents in Giddings slaying chronicle case’s early hours

Telegraph staffDecember 15, 2012 

For more than 17 months, in the wake of the slaying of a Mercer University law graduate and the jailing of the classmate accused of killing and dismembering her, a number of details about the case and the lives of those altered by it have emerged.

But what went on in a roughly 20-hour span in the immediate aftermath of Lauren Giddings’ torso being found has largely remained a secret.

What may or may not have happened in those hours could prove pivotal in the defense that Stephen McDaniel’s lawyers are mounting for their 27-year-old client.

Court documents filed Friday by McDaniel’s attorneys, Franklin J. Hogue and Floyd Buford, also reveal an almost hour-by-hour chronology that police and prosecutors have, for the most part, kept under wraps since their probe began a year and a half ago.

About 9 o’clock on the morning Giddings was reported missing, roughly half an hour before her torso was found, Macon police detective Scott Chapman knocked on McDaniel’s door at the Barristers Hall apartments at 1058 Georgia Ave. Chapman talked to McDaniel for a few minutes.

Giddings, 27, and McDaniel, who was 25 at the time, had graduated from Mercer University’s law school the month before.

Giddings’ friends have since told The Telegraph about encountering McDaniel in the wee hours of that morning, June 30, 2011, when, worried that they hadn’t heard from her for more than four days, the friends first went to Giddings’ apartment to look for her. McDaniel lived in the apartment next door.

After Chapman spoke to McDaniel, David Patterson, the case’s lead detective, put McDaniel in his squad car and, according to McDaniel’s lawyers, interviewed him.

Meanwhile, about 9:40 a.m., Giddings’ torso -- its arms, legs and head missing -- was found in a roll-away, flip-top trash can next to the ground floor of the eight-unit apartment building.

McDaniel was driven to the police department’s detective bureau on First Street. There he gave a video-recorded statement to Patterson.

“Patterson told Stephen that he was asking other tenants at the apartments to give consent to police to search their apartments, and then he asked Stephen for consent to search,” McDaniel’s attorneys write. “Stephen declined ... explaining that he had several firearms in his apartment and that he was protective of them.”

McDaniel was then apparently interviewed on into the early afternoon by a handful of different detectives.

At one point, McDaniel’s attorneys contend, he told detectives that he “was ready to be taken back home.” The request was relayed to Patterson, who was interviewing Giddings’ friends in another room.

“Instead of complying with Stephen’s request, Patterson returned to the interview room, where he had told Stephen to remain, and resumed his interview of him,” a defense motion states.

Patterson asked McDaniel “to allow police to search his apartment ‘for Lauren.’ He went on to tell Stephen that everybody else who lives there (except) Stephen had given consent to search.”

McDaniel didn’t cave. He again mentioned his guns and said he was “protective of his space.”

“At this point, instead of taking ‘no’ for an answer, Patterson states, ‘So you don’t want me to look in your apartment, at all?’ ” a defense motion says. “Stephen finally succumbs to the pressure from Patterson and agrees to let Patterson look in his apartment to ‘see if Lauren is there.’ ”

Not long after that, McDaniel’s lawyers write, “Patterson ordered Stephen to stand up and then asked Stephen to lift his shirt so that Patterson could look for any marks on his body. Stephen complied.”

That’s when Patterson, according to one defense motion, saw that McDaniel had “two red scratches on the right side of his abdomen.”

They looked like “fingernail marks” to Patterson, who then asked McDaniel what they were. McDaniel told the detective that he “did not know how he got them and did not remember when he got them.”

Lots of weapons

By then it was after 1:30 p.m. According to his lawyers, McDaniel was not yet aware that Giddings’ torso had been found. He was driven back to his apartment. There, Patterson and an investigator from the district attorney’s office, accompanied by McDaniel, walked through McDaniel’s residence, “ostensibly to look for Lauren.”

Patterson, according to one defense motion, saw a “large Samurai-type sword” in McDaniel’s bedroom along with a “large knife.” A semiautomatic rifle and a pair of handguns were on the bed. There was a “large cooler” by the front door.

After the walk-through, McDaniel’s lawyers write, “Patterson told Stephen that the apartment was not released to him and to leave.”

McDaniel stepped outside and headed toward Georgia Avenue and Mercer’s Walter F. George School of Law on the other side of the street.

He was flagged down by a television news cameraman. Reporters soon gathered around. McDaniel granted them an interview. He was chatty and seemed composed at first, and then, when told that “a body” had turned up, he became distraught.

Video footage of McDaniel’s dramatic breakdown lent the public, rapt by a high-profile crime that would garner national attention and local fascination, its first glimpse of the young man who would become a murder suspect, even if police, for a month, would steer clear of calling him one.

McDaniel’s lawyers note that after “regaining his composure, to some extent,” the “shaken” McDaniel went back to his apartment, where Patterson “confronted” him and asked McDaniel to sign a form giving police the OK to search it.

“Stephen did not respond and did not sign anything,” a defense motion notes. He was then placed in the Macon Police Department’s RV-like Mobile Command Center that was parked at the apartment complex. They say he remained there for several hours while various police officers came and went.

Sometime that afternoon, a pair of cadaver dogs, led by their handler, sniffed around McDaniel’s apartment while McDaniel sat in the apartment on a sofa.

“This search,” one motion contends, “was conducted without a warrant and without consent.”

At 8:42 that night, “based on purported alerts” by cadaver dogs, Patterson obtained a search warrant for McDaniel’s residence. McDaniel was still in the police truck, his lawyers write, “under the watchful eye of law enforcement.”

Shortly before 11 p.m., McDaniel was taken back to the detective bureau at City Hall for a fourth interview. About 1 a.m., detectives called McDaniel’s mother, Glenda, and let him talk to her.

Patterson left, and just before 2 a.m. obtained more search warrants -- another for McDaniel’s apartment and others for his decade-old Geo Prizm and his body, which let police take DNA and hair samples and allowed them to snap full-body pictures of him.

While Patterson was gone, veteran detective Lt. Carl Fletcher interrogated McDaniel, who confessed to stealing condoms from two of his neighbors’ apartments -- one the day after Christmas 2008, the other a month after that.

“It was now (nearly) 5:00 a.m. on July 1, 2011,” McDaniel’s lawyers write. “At this point, after having never been out of police observation or custody for nearly 20 hours, and having been questioned off and on by various police officers and others ... Lt. Fletcher read Stephen his Miranda warnings. He then arrested him for burglary.”

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