In our coverage of Stephen Mark McDaniel, the 25-year-old Mercer Law School graduate who has been charged with the murder of Lauren Giddings, his former classmate and neighbor, we have repeatedly stressed that McDaniel remains innocent until proven guilty. We have pointed to past examples of individuals who were viewed by the public as almost certainly guilty of particular crimes, but who turned out to be innocent — such as Gary Condit and Richard Jewell, to say nothing of the numerous prisoners who have been freed thanks to DNA evidence.
It is therefore appropriate to ask at this time: Has Stephen McDaniel been framed for the murder of Lauren Giddings?
Let’s look at some of the theories — and the evidence — suggesting this might be the case….
First, consider this reader comment, appended to our most recent story on McDaniel:
Doesn’t the fact that he previously said he could avoid detection [according to the arrest warrant] conflict with the facts that he (1) left the murder weapon at the apartment complex, (2) left the torso at the apartment complex, (3) left the packaging to the murder weapon in his own apartment, (4) kept the victim’s apartment key in his possession, and (5) kept the master apartment key in his possession?
If anything, sounds like a frame job. Dude had about 5 days to dispose of any evidence, yet, even though he’d graduated from law school and worked at a prosecutor’s office, left obvious, obvious murder clues behind? Also, who would be a better person to frame for murder than the weirdo who wears chain mail?
It does seem rather convenient, doesn’t it? Students at Mercer Law are perfectly intelligent; according to Top Law Schools, for members of the entering class, the median LSAT score is a 156, and the median GPA is a 3.43 (between a B-plus and an A-minus). Surely a Mercer Law graduate like McDaniel would have covered his tracks better and avoided such obvious mistakes.
Second, let’s hear from Glenda McDaniel, Stephen McDaniel’s mother. She might not be the most objective source — she is, after all, the woman who gave birth to McDaniel — but let’s hear her out.
Today’s Macon Telegraph contains a great article summarizing a detailed telephone interview with Mrs. McDaniel, which the paper conducted on Friday. Here’s how it begins:
Glenda McDaniel says her son, Stephen, admits buying the hacksaw on which authorities found traces of Lauren Giddings’ DNA.
But, she says, he has told her that he threw away the saw months ago, that Giddings’ “real killer” must have plucked the saw from the trash and used it to frame him for a crime that she says detectives have — in questioning her son — threatened to seek the death penalty.
Wow — the death penalty? Yikes. S**t just got real.
According to Glenda McDaniel, the police tried to force a confession out of her son:
[A]round midnight June 30, more than 14 hours after Giddings’ remains were discovered, investigators called her and put Stephen on the phone.
“And Stephen, in almost a hypnotized, very flat voice said, ‘They told me I did something bad. They told me I hurt someone.’ For 20 hours, they had been trying to pressure and threaten and coerce him into confessing for a murder,” Glenda McDaniel said. “And they had nothing to come to this conclusion, other than that he did the horrible, horrible thing of injecting, inserting himself in the search for his missing friend.”
As you may recall, the Macon police stated that McDaniel came to their attention in part because of the prominent role he played in trying to find Lauren Giddings — and in speaking to the media about her disappearance. This struck law enforcement as suspicious.
But wouldn’t it be perfectly natural for McDaniel to be active in the search for Giddings? She was his classmate, his neighbor, and his fellow officer in the Federalist Society, where she served as president and he served as vice-president. Media reports describe McDaniel as something of a loner; Giddings was one of the few people who showed him kindness. Why wouldn’t he try to do everything in his power to try and find her?
As followers of this story will recall, Lauren Giddings was dismembered. Her torso was found on June 30, but other parts of her body have not yet been located. Due to the dismemberment, some observers have looked with suspicion at Stephen McDaniel’s collection of weapons — knives and swords, as well as three guns. But Glenda McDaniels offered an explanation for this weaponry:
“He had a small handgun that he used for protection. He had one other handgun, and he had a larger gun. He had permits for all of them. They had never been fired,” Glenda McDaniel said.
She said her son collected the knives and swords “because he’s into knights and King Arthur … and he also likes samurai movies.”
And what about the closest thing to a “smoking gun” in this case, namely, the Stanley Tools hacksaw that contained traces of Giddings’s DNA? The hacksaw whose packaging was found in McDaniel’s apartment?
[Glenda McDaniels said] it wasn’t uncommon for her son to keep packaging for items. She said he bought the saw to cut and remove a fallen Bradford pear tree limb at the Georgia Avenue complex after April storms swept through Macon.
“The hacksaw was flimsy, and it bent and twisted and did no good at all, and he threw it in the garbage….”
Both Glenda McDaniels and Stephen McDaniels have suggested that Lauren Giddings was actually killed by a maintenance worker at the Barristers Hall apartment complex. In yesterday’s interview, Mrs. McDaniel provided more information on this front:
[I]t wasn’t until after her son recovered from the shock of his arrest and was “able to focus and process things” that he recalled hearing a noise and seeing someone standing on Giddings’ balcony one night. It was June 23, two days before Giddings went missing, Glenda McDaniel said, the night she says Giddings supposedly noted in an e-mail that someone had tried to break into her apartment.
Glenda McDaniel said her son told her that “he had heard a loud noise, got up, got dressed, went out and saw (another apartment resident) standing on Lauren’s balcony” at midnight. Glenda McDaniel says her son claims the man told him he was thinking about cutting the grass.
“There is no grass on the property anywhere near (Lauren’s) apartment. It’s all near the back of the property,” Glenda McDaniel said. “He had no reason to be on her balcony. But Stephen, having been woken up out of the sleep and … not being a suspicious person, he responded, ‘Well, it won’t bother me because I would sleep through anything.’”
McDaniel’s mother said she’s sure he kicked himself after he realized the man could have been up to no good.
“It was only later, when he started recovering from the shock that his friend was dead, that he started processing that and realized, ‘No. No one cuts the grass at midnight,” she said.
“And at that point, (Stephen, in jail) contacted his lawyer and said, ‘I need to talk to you,’” Glenda McDaniel said.
How did Stephen McDaniel come to see this man, the possible killer of Lauren Giddings? His mother sees the hand of God at work:
She thinks that it was “by divine appointment” that her son went outside and noticed the man on Giddings’ balcony.
“God loved Lauren and he wanted justice for Lauren, and he wanted somebody to be there who would know something and be able to bring justice for her and whoever did this to her,” she said.
But Satan has his instruments as well:
Glenda McDaniel reasoned that the resident her son saw on the balcony that night would know that her son was smart enough to “connect the dots” and that the man planted a master key and a key to Giddings’ apartment inside her son’s apartment. She contends the man could also have plucked from the garbage the hacksaw McDaniel had bought in the spring at a nearby Wal-Mart.
Meanwhile, in other news about the Lauren Giddings investigation, the police are talking to people other than McDaniel:
David T. Dorer, who lived in the same apartment complex as Giddings and McDaniel, walked out of the Macon police detective bureau just before 3 p.m. Friday as reporters gathered for a police announcement about another, unrelated murder investigation.
Police had asked Dorer, a Mercer law student, to drop by their headquarters to answer questions, and he was being “completely cooperative,” said Brett Steger, Dorer’s attorney.
Dorer is not a suspect or a person of interest in Giddings’ slaying, and the questioning was brief, Steger said
It’s not clear why David Dorer was questioned. If you have information about him, or anyone else involved in the McDaniel / Giddings investigation, please feel free to email us.
And don’t forget to check out the Macon Telegraph interview with Glenda McDaniel. It features excellent reporting and is well worth reading.
P.S. This post has focused on evidence tending to exonerate Stephen M. McDaniel. Here are two pieces of evidence, not mentioned in our prior coverage, that might make McDaniel seem more suspicious. First, when they booked him on burglary charges, the police apparently “found what resembled fingernail scratches on McDaniel. But these scratches could have been perfectly innocuous; they could even have been from McDaniel himself, who has a reputation for scratching with his long nails.
Second, according to Barristers Hall co-owner Boni Bush, McDaniel “seemed to be stockpiling water,” using about a dozen two-liter soda bottles. This might be suspicious — perhaps large amounts of water were used to clean the crime scene? — but it could also be perfectly innocent. If everyone with lots of bottled water at home was arrested on murder charges, the jails would be full to bursting.
McDaniel’s mom: My son was framed in Lauren Giddings murder [Macon Telegraph]
Earlier: 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