Man who admitted dismembering law student says he didn’t get fair trial

Nearly four years ago, Stephen Mark McDaniel admitted he killed and dismembered his neighbor, who had just graduated from Mercer University law school. He was convicted of malice murder and sentenced to life in prison in the murder of Lauren Giddings.

But this week, McDaniel says he didn’t have a fair trial due to the state’s misconduct during the investigation. McDaniel has filed a habeas corpus petition claiming his constitutional rights were violated.

“We simply want Stephen to receive a fair and impartial hearing so that the truth will come out,” his father, Mark McDaniel, said Wednesday morning during a press conference.

In the petition, filed Tuesday in Richmond County Superior Court, Stephen McDaniel requests a new trial, claiming investigators illegally searched his apartment and failed to provide medical assistance when he collapsed during the investigation. He also alleges that prosecutors had access to his defense strategies, putting him a disadvantage for a fair trial. The petition was filed in Richmond County because McDaniel is an inmate at the Augusta State Medical Prison.

The remains of Lauren Giddings were found outside of her Macon apartment.

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McDaniel was arrested July 1, 2011, and charged with murder in the death of Giddings. He was also a Mercer law student, and while in jail, McDaniel carried out his own trial preparation including legal research, according to his petition.

Because the Bibb County jail did not have a law library for inmate research, McDaniel sent legal requests for information through deputies, he said. He contends that his requests were sent to the Bibb District Attorney’s office and were used by prosecutors to build their case against him.

Bibb DA David Cooke said legal research was conducted by law clerks, but neither the research nor McDaniel’s requests were reviewed by members of the prosecution team.

“Any claims that Mr. McDaniel’s research was read or utilized in a hearing to establish his statement to police was voluntarily given are baseless, and we stand by the evidence that led to Mr. McDaniel’s guilty plea for the murder of Lauren Giddings,” Cooke said in a written statement.

In May 2011, Giddings graduated from Mercer law school and was living in the Bannister Hall apartments in Macon while she prepared to take the bar exam. The 27-year-old was last seen alive on June 25, 2011, and three days later, her torso was found in a trash bin outside the complex. The rest of her remains were never found.

At Mercer, Giddings served as president of the Federalist Society and participated in the Association of Women Law Students. She played softball while attending Agnes Scott College, where she graduated in 2006.

McDaniel lived next door to Giddings and was initially arrested on a burglary charge following her death. Charges were later upgraded to murder.

Investigators built a case against McDaniel with evidence that included a bloodied hacksaw, Giddings’ underwear and an online post that bragged of sex and dismemberment. He pleaded guilty to malice murder and on April 22, 2014, was sentenced to life in prison.

McDaniel’s father failed to answer questions Wednesday about whether he believes his son killed Giddings.

“This is not about the victim,” he said. “It’s about the improprieties and the misconduct of the state.”