A next-door neighbor and law school classmate of Lauren Giddings, a North Laurel woman killed in 2011 in Macon, Ga., pleaded guilty to a murder charge and was sentenced to life in prison in a Georgia court Monday morning, according to David Cooke Jr., district attorney for Macon-Bibb County.
Stephen McDaniel, 28, of Macon, accepted a deal in the conviction and also revealed previously unknown details about the killing, including McDaniel's account of the night of the murder and the whereabouts of Giddings' unrecovered remains.
Giddings, 27, a 2002 graduate of Atholton High School in Columbia, disappeared in Macon in June of 2011 while attending law school at Mercer University. Shortly after being reported missing by a group of classmates, including McDaniel, police in Macon found a portion Giddings' remains, specifically her torso, on June 30 outside the apartment complex where she lived.
McDaniel, who lived in the apartment adjacent to Giddings, was arrested in August after police found several pieces of evidence linking him to the brutal murder.
As part of the plea, McDaniel filed an allocution document that describes his account of Giddings' murder.
In the document, McDaniel wrote that on June 26, four days before her body was discovered, he donned a mask and gloves, entered Giddings' apartment using a master key and choked her to death in her bedroom. McDaniel admitted in the document to dismembering Giddings in her bathroom the following day and disposing of her body.
McDaniel wrote in the document that he did not "sexually accost" Giddings.
According to the document, McDaniel entered Giddings' apartment about 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 26. McDaniel walked into Giddings' bedroom and observed her sleeping, but Giddings awoke as McDaniel approached after a floorboard creaked, according to his account.
McDaniel wrote Giddings saw him and said, "Get the [expletive] out," which is when McDaniels lept onto the bed and grabbed her throat, according to his account. After a struggle, Giddings and McDaniel ended up on the floor of her bedroom, where McDaniel continued to choke her until she died, according to McDaniel's account.
McDaniel wrote he placed Giddings in her bath tub and returned to his apartment, where he remained for the rest of the day. McDaniel wrote in the document that he returned about midnight Sunday and dismembered Giddings, using a hacksaw, which police would find and use to link him to the killing.
He then disposed of Giddings' remains, except for the torso, by placing them in black trash bags inside a Dumpster on the law school's campus, located across from the apartment complex, according to his account.
McDaniel wrote that on Tuesday, June 28, he disposed of the torso by placing it in a black trash bag and then placing the bag in a trash can outside the apartment complex.
Cooke, who assumed office in January 2013, said the plea was, in part, the result of the District Attorney's Office's withdrawal of the death penalty, which prosecutors considered pursuing.
Cooke said a death penalty case can take from five to seven years to go to trial and that the withdrawal allowed for a faster resolution. The conviction and sentencing brings a level of closure to the case, which has dragged on in Georgia court for almost three years.
"It feels good to finally get justice for Lauren, her family and the community, but considering the great tragedy, nothing can bring happiness," Cooke said.
Giddings' family could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.
In the document, McDaniel said he knew what he did was "very wrong," and that Giddings was his friend. He added that he grieves daily for Giddings and is "extremely sorry" but said he doesn't expect forgiveness from Giddings' family, stating he "doesn't deserve it."
According to Floyd Buford Jr., McDaniel's defense attorney, a settlement in a civil case filed by the Giddings family, in which the family seeks $5 million, is expected to be settled now that McDaniel has been convicted.
As a result of the plea deal, McDaniel will not be eligible to be considered for parole until 2041, although Cooke said it is unlikely McDaniel will ever be released from prison.
The deal was struck one week before the case was scheduled to go to trial and was accepted in exchange for dropping burglary charges and 30 counts of sexual exploitation of children, which were filed as a result of the investigation in the Giddings case, but were unrelated to the murder.