Defense in Giddings slaying: Stifle ‘sea of pink’

jkovac@macon.comMay 31, 2013 

Her wardrobe was full of pink. Lauren Giddings wore at least a splash of it most of the time. A friend said wearing the color was Giddings’ way of telling the world, “Bring it on.”

A prominent Atlanta law firm where Giddings once interned has kept up the “Pink Wednesday” tradition that she started. She saw it as a way to get sometimes-stuffy attorneys to loosen up.

Since she was slain in June 2011 in a dismemberment killing that shocked locals and, early on, made national news, a hot-pink bench has been erected in her honor in Macon’s Washington Park.

Family members and others close to Giddings, 27, an aspiring attorney, have taken to sporting pink at hearings, where the case against her accused killer began unfolding two Augusts ago.

But if lawyers representing Stephen McDaniel have their way, there will be no “sea of pink” in the courtroom at his trial.

In a motion filed Friday, attorneys defending the 27-year-old McDaniel argue that “no juror should be exposed to displays of solidarity with the prosecution or the victim that could influence the way in which they receive and evaluate the evidence presented during the trial.

“There will be ample evidence presented in the proper way from the witness stand that Lauren Giddings was an innocent victim. No juror will doubt that she was loved and respected, or that she had her life tragically cut short just when she was poised to make a valuable contribution to her community as a lawyer.”

Giddings’ dismembered torso was found June 30, 2011, in a garbage can outside the Georgia Avenue apartments where she and McDaniel, a Mercer University law school classmate of hers, were next-door neighbors. A month later, McDaniel was charged with murder.

One of his lawyers, Franklin J. Hogue, told The Telegraph on Friday that it is possible “a sea of pink solidarity for Lauren Giddings will create sympathy” and “erode (jurors’) ability to remain impartial.”

He filed a similar motion, which a judge granted, in a recent Houston County case. A slain woman’s supporters had donned green -- her favorite color -- and worn matching ribbons and buttons in her honor at pretrial hearings.

Hogue doesn’t object to Giddings’ friends and family wearing pink at this stage of the proceedings.

“And I don’t intend to object to it in any non-jury hearing we have, including the days and days of motions hearings that we will undoubtedly schedule for sometime this fall,” he said.

“I understand it. I appreciate it. I see it as a sign of love for her, of solidarity for her. My motion only pertains to the wearing of pink when there are jurors in the courthouse.”

Reached by phone Friday in Giddings’ native Maryland, her sister, Kaitlyn Wheeler, told of the motion, said, “I think it’s ridiculous.”

“I completely agree that jurors shouldn’t be swayed by what people are wearing, and I hold the jurors to that standard,” she said. “But you can’t say that when McDaniel comes in wearing a nice suit and his hair all slicked back that that’s not doing the same thing.”

Giddings’ close friend and college classmate Kristin Miller, an Atlanta attorney, said, “There really aren’t words for the disrespect (the motion) shows. ... It’s an insult to Lauren and everyone who loved her.”

Miller said she’ll be wearing a pink Lilly Pulitzer dress to court every day of the trial. “I don’t care how the court rules on it.”

She said, “I can’t believe the judge is going to have a say in what the gallery is wearing.”

Friday’s motion came on the heels of others filed Thursday, many of which seek to exclude evidence investigators have gathered in the case. McDaniel’s lawyers also raise issues about the manner in which the evidence was gathered.

A motion some observers expected in the case, one seeking a change of venue, was notably absent. Hogue said one won’t be filed. He and attorney Floyd Buford, who are representing McDaniel, don’t think pretrial news coverage of the case will taint jurors.

“The issue with venue in a highly publicized case,” Hogue said, “is always one focused question. ... ‘Is your mind already made up about the guilt of the defendant?’”

Hogue doesn’t get the sense that people here have decided that yet.

“I think that in a county this size we are going to find 12 jurors who either haven’t cared all that much about this case, they don’t follow criminal cases, or even if they have, they have maintained an open mind.”

Buford wouldn’t discuss any strategic reasoning behind not seeking a venue change, but said it “is an issue that we have given a tremendous amount of thought and study and reflection on.”

“Things could always change,” Buford added, “but that’s our view now.”

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

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