WICHITA COUNTY (KFDX/KJTL) — The legal defense team for a man accused of the 2018 murder of a Wichita Falls toddler outlined reasons for a change of venue for the impending trial, which they said is the “only responsible course of action.”
James Irvin Staley, III, is accused of the 2018 murder and abuse of 2-year-old Wilder McDaniel. He also faces a charge of tampering with evidence.
In January 2022, Staley’s attorney filed the initial motion to change the venue during a pretrial hearing, stating Staley would not be given a fair trial in Wichita County.
Another change of venue hearing was scheduled for Tuesday, June 21, 2022, but was canceled due to an illness among the defense team.
Staley’s attorney on Tuesday submitted a legal brief summarizing their argument for a change of venue to Senior District Judge Everett Young of Tarrant County, the fourth judge assigned after the first three recused themselves for various reasons.
The defense claims in the brief that “a plethora of compelling reasons” exist for the court to change the venue, chief among them is Wilder McDaniel’s father, UFC fighter Bubba McDaniel.
The brief states “Bubba McDaniel is a very violent man”, and mentions a time when McDaniel testified in open court he would commit acts of violence against Staley.
Staley’s attorney also referenced an incident that took place weeks after Wilder’s death in which McDaniel was arrested after threatening Staley on social media and offered to “pay $10,000 to anyone who could provide him with Staley’s whereabouts.”
The brief claims a venue change would allow the court “to eliminate the risk that Bubba McDaniel presents to this trial”, claiming that the Wichita County Courthouse’s one-way-in, one-way-out set-up maximizes the potential of McDaniel or “his followers” to influence or intimidate jurors or witnesses.
Also listed in the brief is what Staley’s attorney refers to as “pervasive negative, inflammatory, and prejudicial publicity”, referencing the Justice for Wilder Campaign and extensive media coverage as reasons for a venue change.
The defense argued the jury does not have the capability of being fair and impartial due to media coverage creating prejudices and biases against Staley.
As of Wednesday, June 22, the fate of the cases’ location remains unclear.
These complaints in the defense team’s brief largely echo statements made in previously held hearings.
In May 2022, defense attorneys said news conferences called by the police and Wichita County District Attorney John Gillespie also added to the intense interest in the case and that Gillespie made improper statements and released information still under investigation.
Wichita Falls Police Department Chief Manuel Borrego testified it is not uncommon to hold a news conference on arrests in major cases.
Staley’s lawyers said the case has received more extensive and prejudicial coverage and social media coverage than any local case in years.
Bubba McDaniel was asked by the defense how many posters, signs, and shirts were made for the Justice For Wilder campaign and about protests in front of the courthouse that were reported by the media.