Classmate charged in killing of Georgia law grad from Laurel

MACON, Ga. — A 25-year-old Georgia law school graduate has been accused of killing a fellow classmate who was discovered dismembered outside the apartment building where they lived.

Stephen Mark McDaniel was charged with murder in the death of Lauren Giddings, a 27-year-old from Laurel, Md., who was last seen after a night out with friends June 25. Five days later, police discovered her torso wrapped in plastic in a garbage bin beside her apartment building. Authorities are still searching for other remains.

McDaniel, who was Giddings’ next door neighbor, has been in jail for a month on unrelated burglary charges. His attorney said he will fight the new charges.

“He insists he’s innocent of these charges and he will enter a plea of not guilty and demand a jury trial,” Floyd Buford said.

Macon Police Chief Mike Burns said his department has gathered more than 200 pieces of evidence, conducted dozens of interviews and were confident with their case, but he refused to talk about a motive.

“I hope this is a comfort for her family and our citizens,” he said at a news conference Wednesday.

The killing shocked the town of Macon, a tight-knit community in central Georgia. Giddings’ family and friends were baffled at why the tall, popular woman was targeted. She graduated from Mercer University Law School in May and then traveled to Maryland to be in her sister’s wedding. She returned just long enough to study for the bar exam, consider job offers and pack her belongings.

After she was reported missing, officers found her keys, cell phone and wallet inside her apartment, with no sign of a break-in or struggle.

They also found an email she had sent her boyfriend, an Atlanta lawyer, saying she feared someone had tried to break into her apartment the week before, said police spokeswoman Jami Gaudet.

Police quickly identified McDaniel as a person of interest early, and shortly after Giddings’ death he was arrested and jailed on burglary charges involving two break-ins at the apartment complex. Authorities also identified several other persons of interest, but Burns would not say whether additional charges are expected.

McDaniel, who is from the Atlanta suburb of Lilburn, was known as a quiet student. Bill Giddings, the slain woman’s father, has said he met McDaniel a few times during his visits to campus. McDaniel “seemed to be a light-weight, kind of a bookworm,” he said.

After Giddings’ body was discovered but before he was charged, McDaniel told reporters that he and her friends helped search for her when she was missing. He said she was “as nice a person as could be, she was personable, she was always nice to talk to.”

“I don’t know why anyone would do this,” he said.

Giddings’ family recently sent a dive team into a nearby river to scour for her remains, and police encouraged residents to call in with tips of foul odors or freshly disturbed patches of dirt.

“We are happy that the case is moving forward to some type of closure,” said Giddings’ mother, Karen. “I certainly was hoping that there was somebody that Lauren did not know, but that would mean a killer could be walking the streets.”