Fifty-five days in isolation at the Bibb County jail appeared to be taking their toll on a drooping Stephen McDaniel as he trudged into the lockup’s magistrate courtroom Wednesday for the third time this summer.
This visit was to formally hear about the seven sexual exploitation of children charges brought against him the day before.
Escorted by deputies, a pale, blank-faced McDaniel almost staggered into the room, shuffling, as if shackled at the ankles, which he wasn’t. His arms hung still at his sides, his shoulders hunched forward. He stared ahead as he walked, not glancing to the side or in the rear of the room where eight members of the media were gathered to observe the proceedings.
McDaniel, 25, is accused of murdering his 27-year-old next-door neighbor and law school classmate in late June. Lauren Giddings’ dismembered torso was found on the morning of June 30, in a flip-top trash bin beside the Georgia Avenue apartments where she and McDaniel had lived since starting law school at Mercer University in 2008. They both graduated in May.
In Wednesday’s hearing, which lasted all of 3 minutes, the pony-tailed McDaniel didn’t speak. He nodded when asked if he understood the charges. His lawyer, Floyd Buford, answered questions on his behalf.
After the hearing, Buford said his client -- listed in a booking file as 6 feet tall, 150 pounds when he was first jailed in the wee hours of July 1 on a pair of burglary charges -- has since lost 17 pounds.
“He’s not doing well,” Buford said.
Asked if McDaniel was sick or stressed, Buford said, “I’m not a doctor ... it could very well be both. He’s having a hard time. ... It’s just the fact that he has never been incarcerated before. It is stressful for him.”
McDaniel has been housed in the jail’s infirmary -- separated from other inmates because of the high-profile nature of his case -- since his arrival in the county jail.
“I’m concerned about his health,” Buford said. “They’re providing very good care for him here. He’s got good nurses ... and they’re monitoring his situation. But in the last week or 10 days, I’ve seen a regression in his health.”
Buford said the latest charges brought against McDaniel, coupled with the felony murder allegation, have obviously weighed on McDaniel’s parents, Mark and Glenda, who live in Lilburn, just east of Atlanta.
“It’s hurt them a great deal,” Buford said. “Mrs. McDaniel ... she’s strongly in support of her son on these new charges. She’s adamant that he is innocent of these charges and she hasn’t, not one bit, lost her faith in him.
“It’s difficult for her. Really, really difficult. They have a good, close family. It’s hard on Stephen, but it’s extremely hard on the parents.”
Buford requested that a commitment hearing be held on the new charges. It is scheduled for Sept. 14.
As a result of a prior Magistrate Court hearing, McDaniel is scheduled to have a commitment hearing Friday morning concerning the murder charge.
The Macon police detective leading the investigation is scheduled to testify and be asked questions by McDaniel’s attorney. The judge then will determine whether there is enough evidence for the case against McDaniel to go forward.
McDaniel’s Aug. 2 murder warrant alleges that authorities found a hacksaw with Giddings’ DNA on it in a locked room at the apartment complex. Packaging for the saw was recovered from McDaniel’s apartment, the warrant states, as were a master key to the complex and a key to Giddings’ residence.
As a part of a search related to the murder investigation, authorities found photographs of child pornography on a flash drive inside McDaniel’s apartment, officials said.
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398. To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.