There hasn’t been much to report in recent weeks concerning the prosecution of Stephen M. McDaniel, the 25-year-old Mercer Law School alumnus accused of killing his neighbor and classmate, Lauren Giddings. There has been some continued wrangling over bail, as well as talk of possible civil litigation brought by the estate of Lauren Giddings against Boni and Marty Bush, owners of the Barristers Hall apartment complex where Giddings and McDaniel once lived.
So there isn’t much hard news to report about Stephen McDaniel. In the meantime, let’s take a more personal look at the man behind the headlines.
Last week, I interviewed McDaniel’s college roommate, who described what it was like to live with McDaniel. We had a very interesting conversation….
This isn’t the first time that a McDaniel roommate has come forward to share his tale. As you may recall, last year Thaddeus Money spoke with the Macon Telegraph about living with McDaniel (which we discussed here).
Last week, I had the chance to speak with a different McDaniel roommate, who provided an even more intimate portrait of McDaniel than Thad Money’s account. Matthew Garrison, 26, currently works as a tour guide in Atlanta. He graduated from Mercer University in 2008 with a degree in archaeology. He lived with McDaniel from 2006 to 2007, during what was their junior year in college.
Garrison learned about the McDaniel case from a friend. “A friend called me up and asked me, ‘Do you remember Zombie Boy? He’s in the news.”
How did McDaniel acquire the nickname “Zombie Boy” among undergraduates at Mercer? Was it from his catatonic demeanor?
Actually, no. It resulted from Garrison’s first interaction with McDaniel: “The first conversation I had with him, he said, ‘Hey Matt, can I ask you a question? In the event of a zombie apocalypse, what would you do?'”
(As you may recall, Thad Money had a similar experience. According to Money, McDaniel asked the “zombie invasion” question in order to assess a person’s intelligence.)
Garrison responded jokingly: “You know, I think I’d get bitten and see how well I’d fare as a zombie.” This did not sit well with McDaniel.
“His eyes half-bugged out of his head,” Garrison told me. “He sprinted back to his room, slammed the door, and didn’t come out for the rest of the evening.”
“He lives in absolutely certainty that the zombies are coming,” continued Garrison. “That’s why he wears chain mail and a leather jacket. He never wants to be caught off guard, because you never know when the zombies are going to come.”
Interesting…. Could McDaniel make out an insanity defense in his murder trial? Could he claim paranoid schizophrenia, dating back at least to his college years, if not earlier?
(Of course, just because you’re a paranoid schizophrenic doesn’t mean the zombies aren’t out to get you. Did anyone else see The Cabin in the Woods?)
According to Garrison, he and McDaniel each had their own bedroom (thankfully), with a shared living suite. But Garrison didn’t make much use of the shared space during that year, thanks in part to what McDaniel did to it.
“I don’t know if he had agoraphobia but he was eight different shades of shut-in,” said Garrison. “I can think of maybe two people who were ever in our room on his account, and they were classmates of his there for class purposes. He was not the kind to socialize much. He would go to the cafeteria, take the food back to his room, eat it, and leave the dishes in the living room.”
“He’d clean up maybe once a month or two. The smell was enough to keep most people away from our living room.”
For those of you wondering how a law student could have conducted the grisly murder that McDaniel has been accused of committing, it’s worth noting his apparent tolerance for nauseating things.
And that’s not all. McDaniel did not excel in the personal hygiene department, Garrison told us: “I can’t recall him showering more than three times in the year. Smell was a major issue….”
Given the more unpleasant aspects of living with Stephen McDaniel, how did Matthew Garrison end up with Stephen McDaniel as his roommate? Did the two men choose to live together?
Heck no. “We were put together by random lottery,” said Garrison. Despite a fairly high lottery number at Mercer, Garrison ended up in a standard dorm room (partly because he didn’t have enough money to live in an apartment). He got randomly assigned McDaniel as his roomie.
As you may recall, McDaniel is facing child pornography charges as well as murder charges. According to Garrison, though, McDaniel didn’t have much of a libido.
“One night, my girlfriend and I hosted a party in our room. One of her friends got so drunk she wanted to have sex with somebody. She goes up to [McDaniel's] room and tries his handle. It’s locked. He lets her in. There was this weird 45-minute period where we weren’t sure what was happening inside the room. Then she comes out and says, ‘I don’t know what’s going on! I climbed into bed, I stuck my hand down his pants, and he just kept ignoring me!'”
Sorry, girlfriend. I guess he’s just not that into you (affiliate link).
On the positive side, Garrison and McDaniel did engage in some roommate bonding. They played a predecessor game to World of Warcraft (called a MUD), and they were both fans of Magic: The Gathering, a collectible card game.
But McDaniel was something of a sore loser with respect to Magic. “He was really prone to violent outbursts when he lost,” said Garrison. “Not physical [against me or other players], but shouting and kicking furniture.”
Losing one’s temper after failing to prevail in Magic: The Gathering should not be seen as incriminating. It’s a game that incites serious passions.
But Garrison had other conversations with McDaniel that could be viewed as more troubling….