WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — The punishment trial of a mother who pleaded to endangerment and tampering in connection to the death of her 2-year-old son is expected to be moved to the same county that housed the trial of the man convicted of her child’s murder.
Amber McDaniel, 33, of Wichita Falls, appeared in the 30th District Court on Friday afternoon, August 4, 2023, where a motion filed by her attorney, Mark Barber, to change the venue of her upcoming punishment trial was addressed.
During Friday’s hearing, Judge Jeff McKnight briefly referenced the motion to move the trial outside of Wichita County. No official ruling was made and no order was signed.
However, Judge McKnight said he anticipates the trial will be moved to Tarrant County for a week-long punishment trial, currently set to begin on Monday, September 11. 2023. A pre-trial hearing has been set for Friday, August 25, 2023, where Judge McKnight will likely make a final ruling on the change of venue motion.
On April 28, 2023, McDaniel pleaded guilty to the felony offenses of endangering a child and tampering with evidence in connection to the October 2018 murder of her 2-year-old son, Jason Wilder McDaniel.
Officials with the Wichita County District Attorney’s Office said in a press release after McDaniel’s plea hearing that the prosecution and the defense agreed to move the trial to another county for sentencing due to the publicity surrounding the case.
Familiar setting for McDaniel’s sentencing
The case will now be transferred to Tarrant County, the same venue where in March 2023, McDaniel’s former boyfriend, James Irven Staley, III, was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for capital murder in connection to Wilder’s death.
During the course of Staley’s trial, which lasted more than two weeks, McDaniel took the stand to testify against Staley, as did many of her family members.
Prior to Judge McKnight granting the venue change, McDaniel’s punishment trial was set to begin on Monday, September 11, 2023. As of the publication of this story, it is unclear if that date will change once the case is transferred to Tarrant County.
The third-degree felony offense of tampering with evidence has a punishment range of 2 to 10 years in a penitentiary, and the state jail felony offense of endangering a child carries a potential punishment of 6 to 24 months in state jail. McDaniel is eligible for probation on the charges.
Officials with the District Attorney’s Office said there is no plea agreement in place between McDaniel and the state and that a jury will determine the punishment in this case.
Deleted text messages lead to McDaniel’s charges
McDaniel was indicted in 2021 on one count of endangering a child and one count of tampering with evidence. She turned herself in on July 8, 2021, and posted her bond later the same day.
The charges against McDaniel stem from the more than 9,000 text messages between herself and Staley over the course of their brief yet volatile relationship in 2018, many of which were read in open court during the testimony phase of Staley’s capital murder trial.
It was disclosed during the trial that McDaniel had deleted those messages from her phone, partially when she performed a factory reset of the phone in the weeks prior to Wilder’s death, and partially when she deleted Staley’s contact information and all messages between herself and Staley in the days following Wilder’s death.
The affidavit states that while the deleted messages show no violent messages from Amber about Wilder, “they show Amber ignoring or looking the other way regarding Staley’s expressed hatred and violence toward Wilder.”
McDaniel’s testimony during Staley’s trial
While on the witness stand in Auxiliary Trial Room A of the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center, McDaniel testified several times that she was aware that her testimony was being given “at her own peril”, meaning prosecutors will be able to use anything and everything she said from the stand against her regarding her pending charges.
Despite having the ability to invoke her Fifth Amendment right to refuse to testify and incriminate herself, McDaniel testified that she “owed it to her son” to take the stand and testify against Staley.
McDaniel also testified that when she agreed to testify in Staley’s capital murder trial, she did so without any deal or bargain on the table from the Wichita County District Attorney’s Office regarding any lesser sentence for the charges against her.
McDaniel testified numerous times during cross-examination that she was unsure of what she would do regarding her pending charges upon returning to Wichita Falls after the conclusion of Staley’s trial. At one point, McDaniel testified that she wasn’t hoping that her charges would be dismissed because she chose to testify against Staley.
During McDaniel’s testimony on March 6 and 7, she addressed many of the “red flags” she ignored, stating from the stand that she “became numb to the constant barrage of insults from Staley” and stopped giving Staley any pushback to his negative statements because when she would, “Staley would make her feel crazy”.
This is a developing story. Stick with Texoma’s Homepage for updates as more information becomes available.