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A Portrait of the Accused as a Young Man (Plus a reader poll: innocent?)

Stephen McDaniel

Revelations continue to spill forth regarding Stephen Mark McDaniel, 25, the recent Mercer Law School graduate accused of killing his former classmate and neighbor, Lauren Giddings.

On Saturday, the Macon Telegraph reported on a theory that Stephen McDaniel was framed for the murder of Lauren Giddings. This theory was advanced by McDaniel’s mother, Glenda McDaniel, who steadfastly maintains her son’s innocence. As commentator Kenny Burgamy aptly noted in the Telegraph, “A mother’s love is instinctual, unconditional and forever.”

Yesterday the Telegraph followed up with a detailed profile of Stephen McDaniel, looking at his childhood, family background, and college years. It’s a great read; check it out in full over here.

To whet your appetite, let’s cover the highlights….

The first part of the profile, by Joe Kovac Jr., focuses intensely on the June 30 interview of McDaniel by a Fox 24 reporter, Michelle Quesada. We’ve mentioned this interview before (see the “P.S.” at the end of this post). If you’ve watched that video clip, and if you’ve observed how McDaniel reacts when informed that a body has been found, then you can skim the first half of Kovac’s article (which describes, in somewhat lyrical prose, the video and its origins).

The piece does provide Glenda McDaniels’s take on the endlessly dissected video:

Glenda McDaniel says her son’s June 30 news interview was an act of kindness….

“He was thinking that his friend was still missing,” Glenda McDaniel says. “He didn’t know that the body had been found. And so he was thinking, ‘This is a good thing to do, because this will help get more word out and will help in locating her sooner.’ … He was concerned. He had been up most of the night with her friends helping to look for her. He came home for a very short time and slept, just kind of collapsed a couple of hours to get some sleep.”

She says, “And then they found the body, and he gets this bombshell where the reporter says, ‘Well, what about the body?’ He says, ‘Body?’ And you can watch him going into shock about his friend. … He’s just staring, you can see in his face, he’s trying to wrap his brain around the idea that she’s dead. It’s not even registering. He’s just going into shock. … You can hear his heart breaking when he says, ‘Why would anybody do this?’ He is such a gentle person. He will not even squash a bug. He’ll catch a bug and take it outside and release it. … Then I hear them trying to say that he’s killed and cut somebody up. Lauren was his friend.”

The piece grows more interesting as it takes a look at McDaniel’s pre-law-school career. Here’s what one of Stephen McDaniel’s college professors, Eric O’Dell, said about him:

[I]t’s fair to say that Stephen was kind of quirky. He was really bright. … I was trying to motivate him to live up to his brightness. He was not necessarily always giving his full effort. I honestly sensed he was a lot smarter than the effort he put in. And I think Stephen might agree.

As for the chain mail that McDaniel would sometimes wear, O’Dell had this reaction:

It was quirkiness inherent with freshmen. I thought, ‘That’s different.’ It was like seeing a really bizarre tattoo. I never had another student wear chain mail [to class]. I remember on [a questionnaire] he wrote that he had an interest or a collection of swords. … There’s an undeniable and objective quirkiness that Stephen had. He called attention to himself.

Alas, the Macon police department felt the same way.

Kovacs also spoke to one of McDaniel’s neighbors at the Barristers Hall apartment complex:

David Whitmire, who lived in Barristers Hall, the apartment complex where McDaniel resided, sometimes went out with McDaniel for burgers. Whitmire says he visited McDaniel’s apartment a couple of times and remembers the place being tidy.

“He’d be a great roommate,” Whitmire, 58, says.

ORLY? I’m not sure how much stock to put in the opinion of a 58-year-old man living in a glorified law school dorm.

This next part of the profile, focused on the McDaniel family, fascinated me (and depressed me):

[Glenda McDaniel, 56,] who has adopted four of her daughter’s six children, the oldest of whom is 10, has had no choice but to explain where their uncle Stephen has been for the past month.

The children, at least to some extent she says, know he has been locked up and that his neighbor is dead, her body in pieces.

The McDaniels, who live near Stone Mountain, are devout churchgoers. Glenda and Stephen’s father, Mark, were married in May 1977, nearly 34 years to the day Stephen would graduate from law school.

Their daughter, whom Glenda McDaniel says battled a crack-cocaine problem — which led to a number of arrests — couldn’t take care of her children, and that’s why she and her husband took them in.

Regardless of how one might view Stephen McDaniel, one can’t help but feel for Glenda McDaniel. Her daughter is a crack addict with six kids she can’t take care of, requiring Glenda McDaniel to take four of them in, and now her son stands accused of murder.

The profile then delves into Stephen McDaniel’s childhood. He was born on September 9, 1985 (making him 26 in less than a month). The piece describes his hobbies and interests — including, but not limited to, Lord of the Rings — and talks about his father, who sounds like a somewhat odd character:

Mark McDaniel, 58, on an Internet blog he started in January 2007, posted three times on and, inside of a week, abandoned, wrote:

“Why am I interesting. Well, at first glance I appear to be a crashing bore, but looks can be deceiving. I am a house painter but have more education than most doctors. I have a Ph.D and have eclectic tastes in music, films, and books. I enjoy some samurai films, mostly the ones with less violence. Try ‘Twilight Samurai” and “The Hidden Blade.” … My hobbie (sic) is reading, so I have probably read more books than most. That’s all for today. Be good.”

This part of the article might interest observers who have puzzled over how McDaniel physically could have committed the crime he stands accused of (namely, killing and then dismembering Lauren Giddings):

[Glenda McDaniel] frets over how skinny [her son] looks these days. His booking sheet at the Bibb jail lists him as 6 feet tall, 150 pounds.

Lauren Giddings was an athletic young woman, taller than average — some say 5’10”, some say 6′. McDaniel was around her height, it seems, but not very well-built. A six-foot-tall man with decent musculature should weigh more than 150 pounds. Could a man as scrawny as McDaniel dismember the body of a sizable woman, and then carry around various body parts — including a torso — in order to dispose of them? It’s a fair question. (In the comments, a number of you have opined that this would be possible, especially with the help of wheeled devices.)

This next part of Joe Kovac’s profile of Stephen McDaniel is sheer genius:

[O]ver the past month, detectives have done a lot to learn [about Stephen McDaniel].

Take the picture, for instance. A drawing done in crayon.

It had been taped to Stephen’s bedroom mirror in apartment No. 4.

His mother says the cops seemed especially interested in it.

It had in it a rainbow, a tree, a sun, things a child would draw.

“I love you,” the writing on it said.

It was signed “Lauren.”

As I read this, I felt my heart migrate up into my trachea….

The police “were all excited about that,” his mother says. They were thinking “here he is fantasizing about his neighbor, that she’s gonna become his wife.”

The cops, she says, later learned that Stephen has a 10-year-old niece.

His parents adopted her from their daughter. She is their oldest grandchild.

Her name is Lauren.

BAM! A novelist or screenwriter couldn’t have done better. Twists and turns like this are what keep the McDaniel story so creepily compelling. (And we know it’s compelling; we can see it in our traffic stats. Why do you think we keep running after-hours updates on this case?)

As noted, we’ve given you just a few excerpts from the profile. You should check out the complete article, which has much more — about Stephen’s childhood, his mother’s view of this episode as a religious trial, and other subjects.

In other Stephen McDaniel news, remember the claim by Stephen and Glenda McDaniel that Lauren might have been killed by a maintenance worker? It turns out that David Dorer, the Mercer law student who was interviewed by police on Friday, was also the handyman at Barristers Hall — i.e., the “maintenance worker.” Reports Fox 24:

Accusations against a maintenance worker at the Barristers Hall Apartment Complex surfaced last week when WSB-TV interviewed Stephen McDaniel’s mother, Glenda McDaniel. This week we learn the accused ‘maintenance man’ was arrested in May.

A resident at the complex who wished to remain anonymous says David Dorer became the “resident contact” last November and was fired at the end of May because he was not “not working up to standards.”

He was living at the apartment complex and his last day was June 30th. Dorer will be a third year law student this upcoming semester.

David Dorer

So what was this (super-cute) “maintenance worker” arrested for back in May? Nothing terribly nefarious, it seems:

According to an arrest report from the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, David Dorer was arrested on May 21st and charged with obstruction as a misdemeanor.

The report says Dorer was riding as a passenger when the driver of the vehicle was arrested for driving under the influence on Georgia Avenue.

Dorer was also arrested after he continued to harass the sergeant conducting a license and sobriety checkpoint.

Not a serious offense, but also not very smart behavior for an aspiring lawyer. Having an arrest record isn’t a plus when applying for bar admission.

But does it make David Dorer a suspect in the death of Lauren Giddings? That seems like a stretch. Stephen McDaniel still seems like the top suspect.

On the other hand, and setting aside the smoking hacksaw for a moment, what makes Stephen McDaniel a better suspect in the Giddings murder than David Dorer? Sure, McDaniel has crazy hair and looks kinda smelly, while the clean-cut David Dorer looks dorkily delectable. But is that all? Shouldn’t there be more?

UPDATE (8/9/11, 1 AM): David Dorer’s lawyer, Brett Steger, issued a statement earlier tonight declaring that Dorer “is in no way involved in the death of Ms. Giddings,” that he was not on Giddings’s balcony in the days leading up to her disappearance (as alleged by McDaniel), and that Dorer has “completely cooperated with detectives in their efforts to apprehend and to bring to justice Ms. Giddings’ killer.”

Based on what we know at the current time, how would you vote if you were on a jury hearing the case of The State v. Stephen McDaniel, in which McDaniel has been charged with the murder of Lauren Giddings?

A closer look at Stephen McDaniel, the man accused in Lauren Giddings’ killing [Macon Telegraph]
BURGAMY: ‘Mama loves ya’ [Macon Telegraph]
‘Maintenance Man’ Has An Arrest Record [FOX24]
New Developments in McDaniel’s Maintenance Man Accusation [FOX24]

Earlier: Has Stephen McDaniel Been Framed in the Lauren Giddings Murder?
The Plot Thickens: Say Hello to ‘Hacksaw McDaniel’
A Closer Look at Stephen McDaniel, Lauren Giddings, and Mercer Law School
Breaking: Stephen McDaniel Charged With Murder of Lauren Giddings
An Update On a Mercer Law Student’s Untimely Death
Grisly Scene Developing At Mercer Law School

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