McDaniel guilty plea almost didn’t happen

Telegraph StaffApril 27, 2014 

Stephen McDaniel almost didn’t plead guilty last week.

Though his attorneys have said he drafted a confession -- a portion of the plea that prosecutors insisted on -- the plea hung in the balance as the hearing was about to begin Monday morning.

The courtroom filled with Lauren Giddings’ family, friends, cops and others.

But McDaniel wasn’t there.

Negotiations were still in the works.

Floyd Buford, one of McDaniel’s lawyers, said while there’s always uncertainty leading up to a guilty plea, McDaniel’s was tenuous, “more iffy than most.”

McDaniel, 28, was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to murder in Giddings’ death. The 27-year-old Maryland native’s dismembered torso was found June 30, 2011.

On the Thursday before the hearing, McDaniel offered to plead guilty and write out a confession if Giddings’ parents dropped a wrongful death lawsuit they’d filed against him and if prosecutors dismissed the additional burglary and sexual exploitation of children charges.

Buford said McDaniel was seeking a “global resolution.”

“We just wanted to have everything wrapped up,” he said.The Giddingses agreed to the dismissal if the confession was “fulsome, truthful and verifiable,” said Kristin Miller, Giddings’ close friend who, along with her father, represents Giddings’ parents.

On the Saturday before McDaniel was scheduled to appear in court, about a week before his trial was set to begin, the Giddings family received a draft of the confession.

“We thought it was written backwards to fit the known evidence,” Miller said. “It fits all we know.”

Miller said she and the Giddingses were suspicious of McDaniel’s claim that Giddings wedged herself under her bed. With her lower body strength, she would have been able to fight free, Miller said.

They also found it odd that he didn’t admit to taking a weapon -- or something -- to subdue Giddings.

Miller said it was troublesome that McDaniel said he disposed of Giddings’ head, arms and legs in a trash bin at Mercer’s law school, knowing that police had searched the part of the landfill where that trash had been dumped and found nothing.

The Giddingses sent Buford a counteroffer.

They didn’t hear back from Buford until Monday morning, moments before the hearing was to begin.

The Giddings family and its lawyers were called into the hall for an impromptu meeting with Buford.

Miller said Buford threatened to pull the entire deal off the table if the Giddings family didn’t dismiss the suit.

Kaitlyn Wheeler, Giddings’ sister, said McDaniel “took advantage of us in our most vulnerable state. He had no respect for us.”

The parties agreed to a consent judgment against McDaniel in which he was found liable for Giddings’ death. The Giddingses are entitled to a hearing to determine monetary damages if McDaniel is ever paroled.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398. To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.

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