Stephen McDaniel had been in Lauren Giddings’ apartment 18 days before he snuck in as she slept on June 26, 2011, and strangled her.
A picture proves it.
Prosecutors found the photo on a camera seized from McDaniel’s apartment after Giddings’ torso was found in a trash can June 30, 2011.
McDaniel snapped the picture of a certificate that Giddings had received at her law school graduation that May. He’d staged the shot to include some of Giddings’ personal belongings.
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The photo, coupled with erased peeping Tom videos recovered from McDaniel’s camera, compelled the 28-year-old to plead guilty to murder April 21.
Aside from the photo and videos, McDaniel had covered his tracks well.
No blood or hair evidence linked him to the killing of his 27-year-old next-door neighbor and Mercer University law school classmate, according to evidence reports that The Telegraph reviewed.
More than 250 items of potential evidence included car floor mats, bedsheets, a shower curtain, trash cans, baseball bats, various swords and guns.
But few of them bore fruit for prosecutors.
Many of the hairs sent off for testing, including those found on Giddings’ dismembered torso, couldn’t be tested for one reason or another. The others didn’t yield a match.
Authorities had McDaniel’s Armitron digital watch tested, assuming he might have worn it during the killing and later dismemberment. But the testing yielded no useful evidence.
While DNA testing on the hacksaw used in the dismemberment and a pair of Giddings’ panties recovered in McDaniel’s apartment didn’t definitively match McDaniel, the tests didn’t exclude him.
Her torso, which McDaniel contends he carried downstairs and placed in the trash two days before it was found, weighed 92 pounds. When her torso was discovered, Giddings was wearing only a pair of pink shorts.
In hopes of finding Giddings’ remains, Macon police and FBI agents searched the Wolf Creek landfill in Twiggs County in 2011, the destination for trash collected at Mercer’s law school. McDaniel has since said he disposed of Giddings’ arms, legs and head in a dumpster at the school, located across the street from the Georgia Avenue apartments where he and Giddings lived.
Four bags of bones found in the landfill search were sent to the FBI’s lab for testing, along with a bag of rope and some hair pins.
Analysts determined that the bones weren’t human.
The other tests were inconclusive.
‘That’s when he caved’
The video McDaniel recorded of Giddings’ apartment in the hours before she died hasn’t been released, but those who have seen it describe it as “chilling.”
It captures images of the side of the apartment building as the camera is hoisted up the wall and to Giddings’ living room window.
In the hours leading up to midnight on June 25, 2011, McDaniel recorded several short videos through the window of Giddings’ darkened apartment. A light inside illuminates the room enough to see a sofa bed and her purse.
Authorities believe Giddings was in her back bedroom. She’d just sent an email from her laptop, the last anyone ever heard from her.
The room looks the way police would find it a few days later while investigating her murder.
McDaniel’s trial had been set to begin this week.
But earlier this month, McDaniel learned that authorities had unearthed the videos and the staged June 8 photo he took inside Giddings’ apartment.
Franklin J. Hogue, one of McDaniel’s lawyers, said the new evidence, when combined with McDaniel’s Internet search history, made McDaniel see there was no way out.
Hogue said he told McDaniel, “‘We’ve got no viable defense theory left. We’ve gone beyond unwinnable,’ ... That’s when he caved.”