McDaniel attorneys file motion to exclude computer evidence

pramati@macon.comDecember 31, 2013 

Stephen McDaniel’s defense attorneys filed a motion Tuesday in Bibb County Superior Court to exclude evidence seized from the murder suspect’s computer and storage devices.

Attorneys Franklin Hogue and Floyd Buford Jr. argue in the motion that during the initial part of the investigation into the killing of Mercer University law school graduate Lauren Giddings, the defense didn’t receive key information from the GBI.

According to the court filing, soon after Giddings’ 2011 death, defense attorneys didn’t get any reports indicating “that there was any evidence of any relevance seized from these storage devices, other than some photographs of Lauren Giddings alleged to have been taken from her computer” and stored on the computer of McDaniel, a law school classmate.

The motion is scheduled to be heard Monday morning by Bibb County Superior Judge Howard Simms.

After Giddings was reported missing for several days, her torso was discovered June 30, 2011, in a garbage can at the Georgia Avenue apartments where Giddings and McDaniel were next-door neighbors. Her other remains have not been found.

Hogue and Buford say that an initial GBI report written by a computer analyst didn’t reveal any evidence related to murder or to Giddings. Investigators looked on the computer’s hard drive and searched McDaniel’s web-browsing history.

However, the attorneys said in the document that the defense was given information Friday that McDaniel’s hard drive contained “a number of potentially incriminating matters.” They said a court would still need to determine if it was McDaniel who created the computer files.

“We have no idea why it took so long,” Buford said. “This case has been going on for a long time. We’re not blaming the prosecution. Once they became aware of it, they turned it over.”

Neither Buford nor District Attorney David Cooke would comment Tuesday on the nature of the computer evidence.

Cooke said prosecutors only became aware of the potentially incriminating material on McDaniel’s computer when they were talking with GBI investigators in preparation for the Feb. 3, 2014, trial.

“That’s when the relevance of some of the items contained on the hard drive became clear,” Cooke said. “We told the GBI that they may want to send a copy to the defense for their own analysis.”

Cooke, who took office a year ago, said he didn’t know why some of the material wasn’t previously considered to be important in 2011.

In the motion, Hogue and Buford wrote that they have only been able to examine about 1 percent of the new information. They noted that retaining a forensic computer expert to analyze the data would be difficult because of time and cost restraints. With the trial set to begin in just more than a month, they said receiving the data so late “puts the defense at a serous disadvantage in this final push to trial.”

Buford said he plans to speak with McDaniel within the next day or so about the latest developments. The defense may ask for a continuance should Simms not grant the motion to suppress the evidence.

Cooke said he feels confident the motion will be denied and said the prosecution is ready to go no matter when the trial begins.

The motion doesn’t cover child pornography that was discovered on McDaniel’s computer. McDaniel was charged in a separate indictment for the pornography, which already has been ruled inadmissible in the murder case.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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