Bibb County prosecutors have filed a motion arguing that they are not seeking to disqualify Chief Judge S. Phillip Brown from presiding in the Stephen McDaniel murder case, but instead want to be sure three pending capital cases were assigned to judges properly.
McDaniel’s attorneys filed a motion Monday contending that prosecutors, who had filed a motion asking that case-assignment procedures be reviewed, may be “judge-shopping” or trying to get Brown disqualified from the case.
Before her retirement at the end of 2011, Chief Judge Martha Christian had been handling McDaniel’s case and the Peach County death penalty case against Lillian Walker. Walker is accused in the June 2009 slaying of her 85-year-old aunt, Lillian Graves, and her 65-year-old cousin, Agnes Stewart.
After Christian retired, both cases needed reassigning, and Brown assigned the McDaniel case to his docket.
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Brown reasoned that Walker’s case, although older than McDaniel’s, was on pretrial appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court and no longer was an active case. It would be assigned at a later date.
Macon Circuit Superior Court judges assign cases on a rotation based on judges’ seniority and how many active capital cases each judge is handling.
In a motion filed Wednesday, prosecutors argued that the correct, or incorrect, assignment of Walker’s case could impact not just whether the proper judge is presiding over the McDaniel case, but also the judge assignment in the capital case against two people charged with killing a Centerville woman in a carjacking in 2011. Alexandria Renee Scott and Justin Terrell Grable are accused of carjacking 38-year-old Kimberly McKenzie on Jan. 26, 2011, in Warner Robins and later robbing and killing her in Bibb County.
A hearing is scheduled for Friday to determine whether Brown correctly assigned the McDaniel case.
Prosecutors argue that if the judge rules that Brown’s method of assigning the McDaniel and Walker cases were correct, the case against Grable and Scott was incorrectly assigned to Judge Howard Simms in October 2011, according to the motion.
McDaniel, 26, is accused in the slaying and dismemberment of 27-year-old Lauren Giddings.
Investigators found Giddings’ dismembered torso in a garbage can outside her apartment June 30.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398. To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.