A former law student who is serving a life sentence for murdering and dismembering his neighbor and classmate in 2011 is scheduled to represent himself in a hearing next month on his petition for an appeal.
Stephen McDaniel is due in a state court in Augusta, Georgia, on Aug. 17, where he is expected to argue that he should get a trial because his constitutional rights were violated when police and prosecutors assembled their case against him.
McDaniel pleaded guilty to the murder of Lauren Giddings in 2014, just before he was to go to trial for the killing. McDaniel and Giddings were both recent graduates of Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law in 2011, and they lived in adjacent apartments.
Prosecutors said that in June of that year, McDaniel used a master key to enter Giddings’ apartment and watched her as she slept. According to a statement McDaniel wrote as part of his plea deal, he strangled her when she awoke unexpectedly then moved her body into the bathtub. He returned later in the day and dismembered her body with a hacksaw before placing her torso in a dumpster outside their apartment complex.
After Giddings’ body was found, police arrested McDaniel on an unrelated burglary charge, but found evidence on his computer that he had been searching for information about her. They also found photos and videos of Giddings on McDaniel’s camera, which were taken the morning of her disappearance.
McDaniel initially denied any involvement in the murder, but pleaded guilty in April 2014.
He filed a petition for habeas corpus in February, seeking a new trial on the grounds that the police search of his apartment was illegal, and that he was denied medical care by authorities when he collapsed. McDaniel also has alleged that prosecutors were privy to his defense strategies because he had to send requests for legal information pertaining to his case through deputies at the county jail where he was held. (The jail did not have its own law library.) Prosecutors said they did not have access to McDaniel’s requests or research.
“We simply want Stephen to receive a fair and impartial hearing so that the truth will come out,” said his father Mark McDaniel during a press conference held the day after the appeal was filed.
McDaniel’s appeal appears to be a long shot, in part because he waived most of his rights to appeal as part of his plea bargain. That plea deal spared him from the death penalty, which prosecutors had intended to pursue. McDaniel, now 32, won’t be eligible for parole until 2041.
The four-year-old case was back in the spotlight in June, when Dateline NBC aired an episode about the murder.