Criminal Justice

Law grad takes surprise plea in dismemberment slaying of classmate


A Mercer University law graduate accused of killing and dismembering a classmate soon after both graduated in 2011 has taken a plea in the grisly murder case.

Stephen McDaniel will get a life term, with the possibility of parole in 2041, for the slaying of Lauren Giddings, who was his next-door neighbor in an apartment building near Mercer’s law school. However, Bibb County District Attorney K. David Cooke Jr. said he expects McDaniel will be behind bars in Georgia for the rest of his life, reports the Macon Telegraph. Additional charges of burglary and sexual exploitation of children were also dropped.

As part of the deal, McDaniel signed a one-page confession that detailed how he killed Giddings, who was described by those who knew her as a caring, vibrant woman who had treated McDaniel as a friend. He said he used a master key to enter Giddings apartment as she slept around 4:30 a.m. on June 26, 2011, then strangled her. The previous night, he had duct-taped a video camera to a six-foot wooden stick, then lifted the contraption to peep into her living room window on the second floor of the building.

McDaniel agreed to plead guilty when he learned that the FBI had managed to retrieve the deleted video from his camera, the newspaper says. He apologized for Giddings’ murder in his confession and said it is difficult to explain why he killed her.

McDaniel became a suspect in the case after Giddings’ torso was found in a garbage container in the apartment building several days after her slaying. McDaniel said in his confession that he discarded the other parts of her body in a law school dumpster, the newspaper reports.

Jury selection had been scheduled to begin before the end of the month in his trial, which had been moved to Henry County after he was granted a change of venue. McDaniel could have gotten the death penalty if convicted there. However, the DA had announced in February 2013 that due to the Giddings family’s wishes, he would not seek the death penalty, reported the Telegraph.

At a Monday hearing, Judge Howard Simms said he has “seen and heard literally thousands of criminal defendants” during his years as a prosecutor and judge. “And in all of that time there are only two that I would describe as being truly evil,” Simms told McDaniel, adding: “Having sat and watched you for these last few months and looked into your eyes, you make number three.”

A settlement is expected later this week in a federal wrongful death suit filed by Giddings’ family.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Suspect in Killing of Mercer Law Grad Had Talked of a Perfect Murder, Police Say”

WMGT: “McDaniel pleads guilty to murder: ‘It is difficult for me to explain why I killed Lauren’”

Edited at 8:39 a.m. to add the detail that the death penalty was not being sought.

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