Detective: McDaniel was ‘staring out into space like a zombie’

awomack@macon.comSeptember 16, 2013 

Investigators testified Monday that Stephen McDaniel voluntarily consented to searches of his apartment in the hours after a dismembered torso was discovered in a trash can on June 30, 2011.

Investigators also said McDaniel was free to leave and didn’t have to talk with them, but yet spent hours at the police detective bureau and inside a police command center parked outside the Georgia Avenue apartment complex where he lived.

Testimony began Monday in pre-trial hearings for 27-year-old McDaniel, who is charged with murder in the slaying of Lauren Giddings, his Mercer University law school classmate and next-door neighbor.

Among the issues being argued in the hearings is whether McDaniel voluntarily talked to police prior to being arrested and whether two searches of his apartment, which preceded multiple searches with warrants, were consensual.

McDaniel’s lawyers have filed motions seeking to exclude McDaniel’s statements and evidence obtained during the search warrants issued for his apartment, car and body from the murder trial set to begin in January.

New details pertaining to evidence in the case arose during Monday’s testimony in Bibb County Superior Court.

Documents in the case previously have revealed that the purpose of one of the nine search warrants obtained by Macon police was to look for blue fibers in McDaniel’s apartment.

Macon police Sgt. Scott Chapman testified Monday that the FBI’s lab in Quantico, Va., notified police that they found matching blue fibers on shorts found on Giddings’ torso and a gray T-shirt seized from McDaniel’s apartment.

The purpose of searching for blue fibers on July 12, 2011, was to find the origin of the fibers, Chapman said.

An earlier search warrant issued on July 1, 2011, sought to obtain photos of McDaniel, along with hair and DNA samples.

Macon police detective David Patterson testified he had noticed a scratch on McDaniel’s nose on the morning Giddings’ torso was discovered.

“That made me want to look further,” Patterson said. “I asked him if there were any other scratches on his body.”

Although McDaniel wasn’t under arrest, he lifted up his shirt to give Patterson a look.

When questioned by one of McDaniel’s lawyers and shown a photo taken of McDaniel later on June 30, 2011, Patterson said he couldn’t see the scratch on McDaniel’s nose.

Patterson said he asked McDaniel about the scratch and McDaniel replied that it was from an ingrown hair.

Discovering the torso

Chapman testified he and Patterson went to the apartments at 1058 Georgia Ave. about 9 a.m. June 30, 2011, to investigate Giddings’ disappearance.

Some of Giddings’ friends were there when they arrived.

Chapman said he got a call from another detective who had talked with one of Giddings’ uncles who said Giddings had said she had a “creepy” neighbor who had been stalking her. After the call, Chapman knocked on McDaniel’s door because it was next door to Giddings’ apartment. He knocked several times and turned around to leave.

But then the door opened.

McDaniel stood in the doorway with deep dark circles under his eyes, which Chapman described as looking as if “he hadn’t slept for days.”

He told the detective he knew Giddings was missing.

Patterson said he asked McDaniel to go with him to his car so he could conduct a recorded interview.

Once the interview was complete, McDaniel walked back upstairs toward his apartment. Patterson followed. He was on his way to Giddings’ apartment.

But Patterson never made it to the second floor.

“I made it a few steps and then I caught an odor of something,” Patterson testified.

A crime scene technician quietly looked inside a trash can near where Patterson had smelled the odor. Inside was a human torso, Patterson said.

Patterson said police kept the discovery under wraps as they asked McDaniel and Giddings’ friends to go to the police detective bureau for more interviews.

Chapman and Patterson testified that the residents’ cars parked in the small front parking lot at the apartment complex were blocked in by police cars.

Patterson said a Mercer police officer gave McDaniel a ride to the detective bureau.

At the detective bureau, police interviewed several of Giddings’ friends and McDaniel. After McDaniel’s interview, he was told that he was free to leave, but he stayed in an interview room with the door open. He didn’t have any transportation.

He got up to drink from a water fountain and spoke with Mercer classmates.

A hidden closed circuit TV camera recorded not just McDaniel’s interviews with police, but images of him as he sat in the interrogation room, Patterson said.

When questioned by Franklin J. Hogue, one of McDaniel’s lawyers, Patterson confirmed that a police captain’s voice can be heard on a recording that shows McDaniel sitting in an interrogation room.

Hogue said the captain can be heard saying he was “watching this guy” and calling the person he was watching a “bushy haired guy.” Patterson said he couldn’t recall the comments.

The lawyer seemed to insinuate that although McDaniel had not been arrested, an officer was standing guard outside the door.

Searches

McDaniel initially refused to allow police to search his apartment, but when asked a second time and told other neighbors were granting permission, McDaniel said police could go in if he was present, Patterson said.

About 1:30 p.m., McDaniel hitched a ride back to his apartment with Patterson, a district attorney’s office investigator and two prosecutors.

Once there, he led Patterson and a district attorney’s office investigator on a walk through of the apartment that lasted about 10 or 15 minutes, Patterson said.

Patterson said he noted a red and white cooler, several knives, swords, guns, a computer and digital storage devices.

“He was willing to help us,” the detective said. “He was showing us his apartment. ... He was talkative.”

Patterson, Chapman and Jim McDonald, the district attorney’s office investigator, testified that, after the walk-through, they watched McDaniel walk across the road toward Mercer’s law school and then spotted him talking with the media.

At that point, the discovery of the torso was still being kept a secret.

The investigators testified they noticed a change in McDaniel’s demeanor as he talked with the media and then later after he was led to the police mobile command vehicle where he was given water and offered medical attention.

Patterson said he saw McDaniel fall to the ground while talking with the media. He was being told police had found the torso.

“I thought he had fainted from the heat,” Patterson said. McDonald said it looked like he was hyperventilating.

Back at the mobile command center, Patterson said McDaniel “wasn’t talking. He was just staring out into space like a zombie.”

Chapman said it looked like McDaniel was in shock.

McDonald testified he offered for McDaniel to go inside the mobile command center, where there was air conditioning, and he sat talking with him for quite a while.

At some point, McDonald asked McDaniel if he would allow crime scene technicians to search his apartment again, to clear him from suspicion. After about 15 minutes, McDaniel agreed, McDonald said.

While inside the apartment the second time, McDonald said cadaver dogs arrived and McDaniel agreed for them to search the apartment.

Hours later, and after police had obtained a search warrant for McDaniel’s apartment, Patterson asked McDaniel if he wanted to go with him to the detective bureau for a second time. He also offered to stop by Krystal for some food, the detective testified.

On the way, McDaniel said he wasn’t hungry and the two went to the detective bureau. McDaniel sat in an interrogation room and was videotaped. He was interviewed a few more times by detectives.

Patterson said he told McDaniel he wasn’t under arrest and that he could have stayed at the apartment complex while his home was searched.

At some point, Patterson allowed McDaniel to talk with his mother on the phone.

He still was just a person of interest in Giddings’ slaying.

“I didn’t have anything to charge him with,” Patterson said.

About 2 a.m., police obtained a second search warrant for McDaniel’s apartment, and warrants to search his car and his body.

When Patterson returned from getting the warrants, he found McDaniel talking with two other detectives. He admitted taking condoms from a neighbor’s apartment and he was charged with burglary, Patterson said.

It was another month before McDaniel was charged with Giddings’ murder. He also faces 30 counts of sexual exploitation of children stemming from child pornography found on a flash drive in his apartment.

The hearings are set to continue Tuesday.

Among the motions filed by McDaniel’s lawyers is one asking the judge to prohibit Giddings’ family from wearing her signature color of pink in the courtroom.

Several of Giddings’ family members and friends attended court Monday dressed in pink.

Although the courtroom was about three-quarters full -- mostly with representatives of the district attorney’s office, public defender’s office, interns and law clerks -- McDaniel’s family wasn’t present.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this story. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.

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