This story was reported by Daily News staff writers Dana DiFilippo, David Gambacorta and Barbara Laker, and written by Wendy Ruderman.
WHILE OTHER KIDS his age played video games or rode bikes, Daniel Giddings was out committing felonies.
At age 10, he beat up and robbed a mentally challenged man, court records show.
"Neighbors told his mom when he was 10 years old she should buy a black dress now," Assistant District Attorney Joseph Coolican told a judge in 2000 just before Giddings, then 18, was sentenced in a 1998 carjacking case in which he shot the victim in both kneecaps.
At the time, Coolican told the judge that in his four years of prosecuting violent thugs, he'd never seen a defendant more likely to commit a crime again, according to a court transcript.
"I'm telling [the judge], he'll never be a safe person, never let him back on the street," Coolican recalled yesterday in a phone interview.
Common Pleas Judge Lynn Bennett-Hamlin, who deemed Giddings' juvenile record "appalling," could have sentenced him to a maximum 45 years in prison. Instead, she gave him six to 12 years on charges of robbery, aggravated assault and possession of an instrument of a crime.
State prison and parole officials could have kept Giddings behind bars for the entire 12 years. Instead they let him free after 10 years, despite his record of bad behavior in and out of jail.
And Coolican's worst fears came to pass.
On an idyllic autumn afternoon Tuesday, a fresh-out-of-prison Giddings, 27, fiendishly executed Officer Patrick McDonald, 30, a beloved public servant and elite Highway Patrol cop who lived to fight crime.
As the city mourns the loss of a police officer, the question on everyone's lips is: Why?
"I do not understand why a person like that is on the streets of this city," Mayor Nutter said yesterday. "Every element of [Giddings'] life represents an enormous screw-up somewhere in the system - you've got straw purchasing, trafficking in weapons. He shouldn't have a weapon. He shouldn't be on the streets of this city in the first place."
Nutter said that city officials have launched their own probe into why Giddings had not been in prison.
At an 8 a.m. news conference yesterday, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey called for reforms in the court system, saying that Giddings, a less-than-model inmate who continued to commit crimes while in prison, should never have been out on the street to kill.
"I don't know why he'd be released early," Ramsey said. "I just think it's one more example of a person who ought to be locked up who's on our streets causing harm to others, in this case, killing a police officer. I don't see any reason why that should happen."
Ramsey added: "He was only out a month and here we are, so it's just a very, very dangerous individual who demonstrated that over and over and over again, yet he did not complete his full sentence. I don't know why. Those responsible for releasing him should answer that question."
Giddings was shot and killed by Highway Patrol Officer Richard Bowes, one of several cops who responded to McDonald's call for backup. Bowes was shot in the leg as Giddings blasted away at the officers with a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol on a North Philly street at about 1:45 p.m. Tuesday.
Yesterday, state parole and corrections officials scrambled to explain why Giddings, a perennial problem inmate who spent 537 days "in the hole," or solitary confinement, was allowed to go free two years shy of Sept. 2, 2010 - his maximum-sentence date.
"This guy did serve four years beyond his minimum sentence, and we're told that his behavior was good within the last few years," said Susan McNaughton, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections. "And, actually, in some cases, it's better to have some supervision than to let an inmate max out and have no supervision."
Records show that Robert Shannon, superintendent of the state prison in Frackville, recommended Giddings for parole based on his "improved institutional adjustment and his willingness to participate in programs that were required of him."
Some of the classes completed by Giddings had a touchy-feely ring: "Thinking for a Change" and "The Therapeutic Community." Others didn't: "Batters Group," "Violence Prevention" and "Victim Awareness Education."
"The most important thing here," McNaughton stressed, "is that the final authority on releasing people on parole lies with the Parole Board."
Sherry Tate, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, said that the board had twice rejected Giddings for parole.
On his third try, Tate said, the board approved Giddings's release based on a number of factors:
* His acceptance of responsibility and his remorse for the crime;
* The recommendation of the Department of Corrections;
* His efforts to comply with and complete prison programs;
* His good behavior while in prison since April 2006.
Before April 2006, Giddings was involved in "some incidents of misconduct," Tate conceded.
While in prison, Giddings was a criminal among criminals, records show.
Prison staffers identified him as a leader of a cell-phone-theft ring and a player in an extortion ring. He also was involved in at least two assaults on other inmates and tried to arrange an attack on a prison staffer, records show.
All told, he racked up 27 infractions for bad behavior, for which he was found guilty of 18. He served time in three state prisons because he was "thrown out [of the first two prisons] for extremely bad behavior," said Homicide Capt. James Clark.
Giddings was paroled from the state prison in Frackville on Aug. 18. He walked away from a halfway house in Philadelphia on Aug. 25.
Two days later, Giddings was pulled over for traffic violations by Highway Patrol Officers Robert Snyder and Ronald Kahlan on Seybert Street near 24th, in North Philadelphia, at about 1 p.m.
Giddings fled on foot and into a home in North Philly, where Snyder, Kahlan and two other cops cornered him in a second-floor bedroom. But Giddings elbowed one officer in the face in a brawl that eventually led Snyder, Kahlan and a sergeant to require medical treatment. He escaped, and Central Detectives issued a warrant for his arrest.
Highway Patrol Capt. Michael Cochrane said yesterday that Snyder and Kahlan were concerned after their encounter with Giddings. "At the time, one of my officers said he believed Giddings would end up killing someone," Cochrane said. "He was extremely violent and aggressive with them."
Coolican, now an assistant district attorney at Onondaga County in Syracuse, N.Y., said that he felt sick over McDonald's death.
"I can only say that I did everything I could do at the end of the day," Coolican said.
Even now, eight years later, Coolican recalled nitty-gritty details of Giddings' juvenile record.
"He had a horrible juvenile record," Coolican said. "Since the age of 10, he had done nothing but assault people."
Giddings tried to appeal his conviction in the carjacking case. He blamed his defense attorney, Harry Seay, for doing a poor job. In a 2002 court hearing, however, Seay said that he believed that Giddings had gotten off easy.
"I was very honest with him and told him that the sentence that he had received based on his record was a gift," Seay said.
Judge Bennett-Hamlin did not return a phone call left by the Daily News at her Haverford home yesterday. But according to court records, the judge based Giddings' sentence, in part, on the fact that he had obtained his high-school diploma, earning A's and B's while in jail waiting for his case to come before her. Seay implored the judge to "take a chance on him," records show.
"I think he can be saved," Seay told the judge.
Yesterday, Giddings' family said he was no monster.
"In my eyes, he was family-oriented," said his sister, Latanya Baskerville. "He was intelligent, lovable and adored his children. It's painful to see all the negatives. They're trying to make him a monster."
His mother, Theresa Bryant, who lives on Nicholas Street near 23rd, said that she loaded up diaper bags and took his three children, two 9-year-old daughters and a 10-year-old son who has leukemia, to visit him in prison every month during his years in prison.
Bryant said her son fled from the halfway house because "people in the community" threatened to hurt him.
He told her it "was good to be out."