It was perhaps the most intriguing and contested day in court so far in the Stephen McDaniel murder case.
Thursday’s pretrial hearing in Bibb County Superior Court marked the first time a videotaped police interrogation of McDaniel was made public.
The video offered a glimpse into the investigation in the late-night hours of June 30, 2011, when McDaniel was well on his way to becoming a suspect in the dismemberment murder of Lauren Giddings.
McDaniel, 28, was then, like his alleged victim, a recent Mercer University law school graduate and aspiring attorney.
Giddings’ torso is the only part of her ever found. It turned up earlier that day in a trash bin at the downtown Macon apartments where they both lived. The discovery set into motion one of the most publicized murder probes the city has ever seen.
In the roughly 10-minute video, it becomes apparent that McDaniel, who was still not under arrest, could have easily been under the impression that he was not free to leave the police station.
Macon police Detective David Patterson told McDaniel, “It’s all over anyways. ... The game’s over. ... We know what you did to her. ... We just wanna know ... if you’re gonna tell us or not.”
McDaniel replied, “I didn’t do anything.”
“That’s what you say,” the detective said. “We know different, so you’re (expletive) either way. You’re (expletive). We already know. ... This is the end. Is there anything you wanna say?”
“I didn’t do anything,” McDaniel answered.
“That’s what you say. Stick to your story,” Patterson said, “because it’s over. We’re tired of talking to you. We know you killed her. We know you put her body in the trash can. It’s simple as that.”
In court, McDaniel sat as still as he was in the more-than-2-year-old video, hunched over a table with his lawyers, gazing at a television monitor as Patterson painted him a loser and a friendless misfit.
“There’ll be no more video games, all right?” Patterson said, adding later, “Your whole family said you’re crazy.”
A few minutes later, the detective told McDaniel that his mother, Glenda McDaniel, back home in metro Atlanta, would be on the way to Macon to see him before “you go on down.” As in, down to jail.
McDaniel’s defense team succeeded in using the video clip as ammunition to attack McDaniel’s alleged confession to burglaries at the apartments, where he and Giddings, 27, were next-door neighbors.
Franklin J. Hogue, one of McDaniel’s lawyers, argued that McDaniel was in police custody for hours before he was read his rights. Because of that, potential testimony at trial about McDaniel supposedly telling another detective later that night about going into other people’s apartments to steal condoms -- still before he was read his rights -- was deemed inadmissible.
McDaniel was jailed on burglary charges soon after he was questioned in the case. Those charges were important for police at the time, because burglary charges appear to have been their lone means of jailing McDaniel. A month passed before he was charged with Giddings’ murder.
What’s in, what’s out
In other evidentiary concerns Thursday, Judge Howard Simms ruled to exclude talk at the February trial about inconclusive luminol tests for blood conducted on Giddings’ bathtub and bathroom tile.
Luminol, a chemical sprayed on surfaces to detect blood, can also emit its telltale glow in the presence of a variety of substances other than blood, including household bleach, detergents and plant matter. No blood was found in the bathroom.
In excluding the luminol, which the prosecution may have hoped to use to imply that the bathroom had been “super-cleaned,” Simms said it was unknown if any luminol glow there was caused by “chlorine or Dawn or radishes.”
The luminol was a contentious point because prosecutors could have coupled it with testimony about McDaniel allegedly telling past college acquaintances and a roommate about his plan for committing the “perfect murder.” The plan, according to one potential witness for the state, included dismembering a body in a bathroom.
Simms denied a defense motion that argued the “perfect murder” recollections shouldn’t be allowed at trial.
The judge will allow testimony that investigators found swords, knives and a stick-like weapon or staff in McDaniel’s apartment, but not guns or a baseball bat that turned up in searches.
Simms also denied another defense motion to exclude a search of McDaniel’s body for scratches. Also, the judge will allow word of ponchos and an earring found in McDaniel’s car.
Prosecutors will also get to discuss door keys that police found in the apartment that would have given McDaniel access to Giddings’ apartment, as well as all others in their complex.
The judge delayed ruling on other issues until another hearing that’s set for Jan. 6, namely items awaiting FBI lab results and computer analyses. Simms will also wait to rule on a defense request that Giddings’ friends and family not be allowed to wear pink, her favorite color, to the trial.
It remains to be seen whether the hourslong interrogation video will come up or be shown at trial.
If it is, it will show Patterson and, at times, other detectives, trying to break their suspect, McDaniel, down.
In the clip shown Thursday, Patterson, seated in an interview room, squared off with McDaniel and all but begged him to divulge ... something, anything.
“You can sit there with that dumb look on your face,” Patterson said. “It’s over. You’ve enjoyed yourself. ... OK? Anything you want to say?”
“I didn’t do anything,” McDaniel said.
“I’m telling you, you did. ... You’re not in charge. I am. I just took it away from you,” the detective said. “That’s one thing you can’t change, brother.”
Patterson goes on to inform McDaniel that his mother cried when “I told her the whole story,” and that she and other family members were on their way to town “to kiss you goodbye.”
“I didn’t do anything,” McDaniel repeated.
Patterson said, “It doesn’t matter what you think you did. ... It’s what I can prove. OK? OK, Mr. Smarty-pants? ... You thought you were smarter than everybody else, but you’re not.”
Then the detective, as if exasperated, made an offhand remark about how McDaniel might have made something of his life. “But you chose a different route.”
To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.