Lawyers, police, witnesses and others in the know are now prohibited under a gag order from talking about the Stephen McDaniel murder case.
Superior Court Judge Howard Simms issued the order Friday, citing extensive media coverage of the June 2011 dismemberment death of Lauren Giddings. The 27-year-old’s torso was discovered in a trash can outside the Georgia Avenue apartment complex where she and McDaniel, 28, were next-door neighbors. They were also Mercer University law school classmates.
In his order, Simms cited extensive media coverage, specifically a Jan. 11 story in The Telegraph that included information from a source “familiar with the investigation.” The story included allegations that McDaniel had visited a web page about necrophilia and Giddings’ Facebook page, and he seemed to have looked up information about a burglar bar like the one on her apartment door.
“The information contained in this article had not previously been made public through a court proceeding or a statement by the attorneys in this case,” the judge wrote. “Based on the court’s knowledge of the case, the information reported is that which could only be divulged by those most intimately associated with the investigation.”
Simms, who began presiding over the case in December after the previous judge retired, said the “recent developments” prompted consideration of an order restricting commenting on the case. He included an estimate of the number of news stories published by The Telegraph and a local TV station about the case.
In the months following the slaying, The Telegraph reported almost daily about the investigation.
On several occasions the paper has cited sources, some of them confidential, while breaking news of several developments, including:
The discovery of Giddings’ DNA on a hacksaw and an allegedly similar hacksaw package found in McDaniel’s apartment;
A key to Giddings’ apartment and another key, a master key, that detectives found in McDaniel’s apartment. The master key opened doors to other apartments at their complex;
Internet message board posts written by “SoL,” some of which The Telegraph independently verified as being authored by McDaniel. “SoL” wrote of being “desensitized” to violence and gore, and referred to movies in which people were dismembered alive. Posts also explained how drugs such as chloroform can be used to incapacitate someone.
Panties bearing Giddings’ DNA found in McDaniel’s apartment.
The gag order comes a week after prosecutors disclosed in open court that McDaniel had visited websites about cannibalism and also had entered an Internet search query for “molest ... sleeping girl.”
In his Friday order, the judge also expressed concern about the news outlets’ social media reach, readers’ online comments and an incidence of inaccurate information being published online.
He wrote that the gag order will be enforced by holding violators in contempt, an offense that could draw a fine and a stay in the county jail.
McDaniel’s lawyers filed a motion earlier this week requesting that the trial be moved out of Bibb County. Prosecutors issued a response, saying they consented to the move.
Simms hasn’t issued a ruling on the matter. If a change of venue is granted, the trial could be held outside Bibb County or jurors could be selected and brought to Macon.
The case had been scheduled for trial Feb. 3, but a raft of recently discovered computer evidence caused Simms to postpone the proceedings.
A new trial date has not been set.