It's been two years since the search for Lauren Giddings turned into the search for her killer.
Friends last saw the Mercer Law graduate on June 25th, 2011. Macon Police say they found surveillance video of her at a Macon Zaxby's restaurant around 6:30 that night.
FULL COVERAGE: The Lauren Giddings Case
Five days later, on June 30th, police found her torso in a garbage bin outside her apartment near downtown Macon. She was 27 years old.
The next day, her neighbor and classmate Stephen McDaniel was arrested on two un-related burglary charges. Later that same day, police named McDaniel a 'person of interest' in the Giddings case. On August 2nd, he was charged with felony murder.
On the 23rd of that month, McDaniel was charged with child exploitation. Police said they found pornography on a flash drive in his apartment.
In December 2011, Bibb County District Attorney Greg Winters announced he would seek the death penalty for McDaniel.
Judge Phillip Brown set McDaniel's bond at $1 million, but in April 2012, he lowered it to $850,000. McDaniel's family said they still could not afford that. He remains in the Bibb County jail.
In February of this year, the new District Attorney, David Cooke, took the death penalty off the table at the request of the Giddings family. Cooke said that allowed them to set an earlier trial date. It's now scheduled for January 6th of next year.
Two years ago, hundreds of pieces of evidence were sent to the FBI crime lab in Virginia. Cooke says most of it is just now going through testing.
"Federal cases take precedence," explains Cooke. "So we have bombings in Afghanistan and Iraq, and now Boston, those go ahead of us. That's one of the reasons I pushed so hard early on to get a trial date set, so it would expedite our testing. If we were still on the track that we had been on, we still wouldn't have a trial date, and so testing of evidence wouldn't even have begun."
But Giddings' sister Kaitlyn Wheeler says there is still one piece of evidence investigators haven't found.
"The rest of her remains," says Wheeler. "That's always going to be a top priority for her family members. We haven't had the right to a proper burial. We don't have a gravestone yet. We're just holding on to the hope that someday we'll get the rest of her remains back. That's constantly on all of our minds."
Lauren's mother Karen Giddings says she's not confident that her daughter's remains will be easily found after two years. She and Giddings' father, Bill Giddings, filed a civil suit earlier this month asking to search the 63-acres in Pike County previously owned by Stephen McDaniel's grandfather. Karen says police could not find probable cause to search the property two years ago, but her family would still like them to look.
She says scheduling the trial quickly was also a top priority for her family, but setting the January date brought both relief and fear.
"We're still a little unsure about being in that courtroom and actually, for one, facing Lauren's murderer, and two, for me personally, some of the cold, hard facts that may come out of it," says Karen Giddings.
McDaniel's lawyer, Floyd Buford, says both he and his client are ready for the trial to begin.
He says, "Mr. McDaniel is adamant that he is innocent of these charges. He wants to have his day in court, and I am confident, very confident, that once the jury has an opportunity to hear both sides of the case, I believe that Mr. McDaniel will be acquitted."
District Attorney Cooke says he is confident in his own strategy.
The trial will take place in Bibb County. Buford says he does not think moving it to another difference would make a difference.
Before the trial, a hearing will be held in September to discuss nearly 50 motions filed by the defense. Cooke says he expects that to take about a week.
Some of the motions include throwing out evidence found in McDaniel's car, including a rope, bleach, and latex gloves. McDaniel's lawyers say they are irrelevant to the case and were not obtained properly. Another motion asks the court to dismiss McDaniel's statements to police, claiming he was interrogated before bring read his rights.
Judge Brown will decide which of the motions to accept, and the next step is the trial in January.
Since the FBI recently began testing most of the evidence, the results are not available yet, but court documents have revealed some of the evidence police collected during the investigation.
Those documents say a hacksaw with Giddings' DNA was found in a laundry room at her apartment complex, and police found a box for the same brand of hacksaw in McDaniel's apartment. Police were also seen hauling Giddings' bathtub out of her apartment. A 13WMAZ reporter saw the tub the day before during a tour of the apartment and described it as having several scratch marks similar to what you would see on a kitchen cutting board.
Buford says McDaniel has not decided whether he will testify. Neither he nor Cooke would discuss their strategies, but they agree the trial is likely to last about two weeks.
McDaniel is also charged with child exploitation. Buford says those charges have to be handled in a separate trial with a different jury. That won't start until after the murder trial.