Detectives investigating the dismemberment slaying of Mercer University law school graduate Lauren Giddings scrutinized Kroger and Wal-Mart purchases they think her alleged killer made in the days and weeks before her death.
Court filings Thursday by his defense attorneys provide a further glimpse into how the murder case against Stephen McDaniel came together.
Detectives have video footage, which McDaniel’s attorneys hope to suppress, of their prime suspect in the slaying shopping at a Macon Wal-Mart on June 23, 2011, two days before Giddings was last seen alive.
“According to the police,” McDaniel’s lawyers write in one of their 17 motions, “Mr. McDaniel ‘appears’ to be looking at flashlights and boating supplies, including boat anchors, in the footage.”
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They note that investigators say McDaniel bought a package of rope, a computer flash drive and a pair of rain ponchos. The purchases, the lawyers contend, are irrelevant to the charges against McDaniel, that the items “were the type of household items purchased regularly by the average consumer.”
The introduction of such evidence, the lawyers said, would “unduly prejudice” jurors.
The attorneys, Floyd Buford and Franklin J. Hogue, make a similar argument about buys McDaniel is said to have made at a Kroger between April and June 2011: a pair of 8-inch scissors, a 48-ounce jug of bleach, household rubber gloves, Scotch-Brite pads and allergy tablets.
“There is no evidence that the defendant himself purchased the items, only that the items were bought using the Kroger Plus Shopper’s Card” bearing McDaniel’s name, one motion reads.
Thursday was the deadline for pretrial motions in the case, which is scheduled for a September trial, but observers don’t expect one until sometime next year. There was no change-of-venue motion in Thursday’s filings, and Hogue said there won’t be one.
“We would have filed it by now,” he said.
McDaniel, 27, has been in jail since July 2011. He is accused of killing Giddings and dumping her dismembered torso in a garbage can outside their Georgia Avenue apartment late that June. Her extremities were never found.
She and McDaniel were next-door neighbors and recent Mercer University law school graduates, though those close to her say the two were not friends. Giddings, a Maryland native, and McDaniel, who grew up in Lilburn, had graduated in May. They were still in town studying for the state bar exam that July.
Prosecutors initially sought the death penalty against McDaniel, but incoming District Attorney David Cooke dropped that bid.
McDaniel’s lawyers, in their Thursday motions, also asked the court to keep out any testimony saying McDaniel “‘cannot be excluded as a potential minor contributor’ to DNA evidence found” on a pair of panties in his apartment.
The underwear contained the DNA of “two or more people,” the motion states, mostly Giddings’. An FBI analyst, however, concluded that McDaniel may have been a “minor contributor” to “the DNA mixture.”
Nowhere in the lab report, McDaniel’s attorneys argue, is it noted that “McDaniel’s DNA is on the underwear ‘to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty’ or to any other degree of certainty.”
The lawyers also want the court to exclude other alleged evidence: four rain ponchos found in McDaniel’s 1997 Geo Prizm. Two were in the glove compartment and two were in the trunk, still in their original packaging. The lawyers contend their discovery is “irrelevant,” though prosecutors could try to introduce the plastic coats as garb that a dismemberment-killer might have worn.
Other motions seek to suppress search warrants for McDaniel’s apartment and his car. The warrants authorized police to search for “blood and blood spatter, body parts and body tissue and fluids, knives, cutting implements and instruments capable of dismembering a human body, cleaning and laundry supplies, garbage bags, paint and painting tools.”
A problem with search warrants?
The motions contend that four of nine warrants were not issued by “a neutral and detached magistrate,” but by Bibb County Superior Court Judge Edgar W. Ennis Jr. McDaniel, while in law school, was a clerk for Ennis.
After McDaniel’s incarceration pending trial, Ennis disqualified himself from the case, citing his former relationship with McDaniel.
“If Judge Ennis was incapable of presiding over the trial of Mr. McDaniel because of the actual or perceived bias towards or against a former clerk, then it follows that Judge Ennis would not be the neutral and detached magistrate required by law during the issuance of (the first four) search warrants,” the motion says.
The motions also seek to have “all evidence of knives, swords, firearms, and other weapons” excluded, as many were “of a ceremonial nature or for display.”
Police seized a rifle, two pistols, eight swords and a number of knives, including a K-Bar knife, a Nepalese “Gurkha” knife, ornamental daggers, wooden staffs, hand scythes, a garden shovel and four baseball bats. All of it “tested negative” in connection with Giddings’ death, according to one motion, which also noted that an autopsy “produced no evidence linking these items” to Giddings’ wounds.
The lawyers also want any evidence that police gathered “as a result of (McDaniel’s) illegal arrest June 30, 2011” excluded from trial.
McDaniel’s arrest was not founded on probable cause, they say. The attorneys want a hearing to determine exactly at what point McDaniel was under arrest. If the arrest was illegal, the lawyers want all evidence gathered as a result to be excluded.
The lawyers also want to suppress all statements McDaniel made to police and prosecutors before, during or after his arrest.
McDaniel was in police custody for 14 hours, including one stretch of six straight hours of questioning, according to one motion. During that period, he was repeatedly accused of murder, “verbally accosted” and threatened by police. He was offered restroom breaks, water and medical assistance in exchange for answers to their questions.
Many of the search warrants in the case are based, in part, on involuntary statements by McDaniel elicited before he was read his Miranda rights against self-incrimination, the lawyers contend. They want a separate hearing to determine whether the statements should be allowed.
They also want to prevent prosecutors from introducing evidence of his arrest for two counts of burglary, as well as his indictment on 30 counts of sexual exploitation of children.
McDaniel has not been indicted on the burglary charges, they are unrelated to the murder case, and the charges should be excluded from his murder trial, his lawyers contend. Prosecutors have no purpose in introducing that evidence “other than to malign (McDaniel’s) character.”
As far as the charges of sexual exploitation of children, McDaniel’s lawyers say they are not relevant to the murder charge and that a judge should exclude any evidence related to the indictment. Allowing that evidence in would only prejudice a jury against McDaniel and confuse jurors, they say.
Defense attorneys also want any evidence that police seized during several searches of digital storage devices inside McDaniel’s apartment in August 2011 excluded from trial. Gathering that evidence violated McDaniel’s expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment, his lawyers say.
Police officers also exceeded the scope of a search warrant by seizing items not listed on the warrant, the lawyers contend. That, they say, exposes those items to the taint of illegality, as well as other items seized later. They should be excluded from trial, they say.
McDaniel’s lawyers also challenge the form of the murder indictment, saying that it fails to specify the date the crime happened, the location within the county, the manner in which McDaniel allegedly killed Giddings, and the instrument he allegedly used. This lack of detail, the lawyers say, is critical to McDaniel’s defense and renders him unable to prepare an adequate defense.
Defense attorneys also want to question prospective jurors in panels of 12 at a time, while the remaining men and women wait outside the courtroom.
To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397. To contact writer Oby Brown, call 744-4396.