Delays in evidence results could prompt McDaniel trial postponement

jkovac@macon.comJanuary 6, 2014 

Potentially incriminating evidence recently found on one of murder suspect Stephen McDaniel’s computers was deemed admissible Monday for his trial, which is set to begin next month.

Defense lawyers had argued that a warrant used to seize the computer was invalid, and also that the last-minute findings came, as attorney Floyd Buford put it, “at the 11th hour on the eve of trial.” He noted that the GBI has had McDaniel’s computer for two and a half years.

It won’t be a surprise if the Feb. 3 trial is delayed. Buford asked for a 90-day delay if the new computer evidence were allowed, which it was. Simms may rule on a continuance this week.

McDaniel is charged with murder in the slaying of Lauren Giddings, whose dismembered torso was found June 30, 2011, wrapped in plastic garbage bags in a trash bin outside the Georgia Avenue apartments where she and McDaniel were next-door neighbors.

Giddings, 27, was a Mercer University law school classmate of McDaniel’s. McDaniel, now 28, was charged with Giddings’ murder in August 2011.

In ruling to allow the computer evidence, Bibb County Superior Court Judge Howard Simms told Buford, “I sympathize with your position.”

There was only a hint at what GBI analysts may have unearthed on McDaniel’s Dell laptop. Toward the end of Monday’s roughly three-hour proceeding, Assistant District Attorney Dorothy Hull spoke of an Internet search query turned up by the GBI that was worded “molest ... sleeping girl.”

She didn’t get the chance to elaborate. Simms called attorneys for both sides to the bench, and there was no more talk of the GBI’s discovery.

Matthew Daniel, a GBI computer expert, testified that Macon authorities had, in 2011, asked him to scour McDaniel’s laptop for “evidence of murder or weird things, strange things.”

Earlier, Simms ruled that some material related to disturbing Internet posts McDaniel may have made will be allowed in at trial. The judge reserved the right to rule later on the admissibility of individual posts, which carried the “SoL” moniker that McDaniel is believed to have used.

One of the day’s more compelling exchanges came when discussion turned to the admissibility of two strands of hair found in a refrigerator in the apartment of Giddings’ downstairs neighbor.

Prosecutors are still awaiting test results on the hairs from an FBI lab in Virginia. They also have yet to receive final reports from 10 FBI experts who had a hand in investigating potential evidence in the case.

“And they’ve had this stuff for two and a half years?” Simms asked.

“That is correct,” prosecutor Nancy Scott Malcor said, adding that she was updated on the status of the FBI reports late last week.

“Some of these scientists have completed their examinations, but they’ve been out over the holiday period. So we should be expecting to receive some reports this week or next,” Malcor said.

She added that the only potential evidence still undergoing testing or analysis had to do with mitochondrial DNA and that a report on it won’t be ready until mid-month or later.

If all the materials were sent to the FBI in summer 2011, why is the FBI “just now getting around to” finishing, Simms wondered.

“What they have said consistently,” Malcor replied, “is that they are the FBI crime lab, and that Macon, Georgia’s, murder case is rather low on the things that they are doing.”

Simms asked Malcor to have the FBI’s general counsel call him.

“And I would like to hear from him today,” the judge said. “I understand that the FBI may be very busy, but so are we. ... Now they’re telling us, ‘Well, you’ll get it when we decide to send it’? I don’t think so.”

Later, an FBI computer analyst testified that he examined logs of 344 “SoL” -- or “Son of Liberty” -- posts and had linked all but six of them to Internet protocol addresses tied to McDaniel.

Simms reversed a previous ruling that would have excluded alleged evidence regarding guns, a baseball bat and duct tape found in McDaniel’s apartment. The items were deemed admissible because of violence-related “SoL” postings that refer to using such things.

Simms ruled in favor of a defense motion that prohibits prosecutors from introducing testimony that McDaniel claimed to be a virgin and was saving himself for marriage, unless it later proves relevant.

The judge also said the state can’t elicit testimony from an FBI profiler, who has prepared a report saying the Giddings slaying was a sex-fantasy crime. That is, unless the profiler needs to be called as a rebuttal witness.

Afterward, Bibb District Attorney David Cooke said, “I think it was a good day for the state. ... We’re one step closer to justice for Lauren and the community.”

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

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