Editor’s note: The story has been updated to remove a fact that could not be confirmed at this time.
FORT WORTH (KFDX/KJTL) — More than four years after a two-year-old was found dead, the capital murder trial of a man accused of killing the boy is underway in Tarrant County, Texas.
Jason Wilder McDaniel was found dead on the morning of October 11, 2018, at a residence on Irving Place that belonged to James Staley III, a member of a prominent and wealthy Wichita Falls family. Staley was later indicted for Wilder’s murder.
Testimony is set to begin in Tarrant County’s Criminal District Court 3 at the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center located in the heart of downtown Fort Worth on Monday, February 27, 2023, just two days after what would’ve been Wilder’s seventh birthday.
The path to Staley’s murder trial has been a long one with many twists and turns along the way.
Amber Odom gave birth to Jason Wilder McDaniel on February 25, 2016. Bubba McDaniel was the father of Wilder.
According to statements taken by the Wichita Falls Police Department, Amber began a relationship with a Wichita Falls man named James Staley sometime in the summer of 2018.
James Irven Staley, III, is the great-great-grandson of Joseph Albert Staley, who rose to prominence during the Burkburnett oil boom in the 1920s. James Irven Staley Jr. became well-known in Wichita Falls for his business, Staley Oil. The Wichita Tower in Downtown Wichita Falls formerly bore the Staley family name.
Staley, originally of Wichita Falls, also lived in Boulder, Colorado, and Okmulgee, Oklahoma. Since 2001, he’s had several run-ins with law enforcement, including an arrest in 2016 for firing a gun inside of a Wichita Falls bar called Whiskeyta.
Sometime in August 2018, Amber and her son, Wilder, moved into Staley’s home on Irving Place in Wichita Falls. Less than a month into their time living at Staley’s residence, Wilder was found with bruising on his face. Staley alleged Wilder had fallen off the bed, but police would later charge Staley with injury to a child after evidence indicated Wilder had been pushed off the bed by Staley.
As time passed, authorities said Staley began showing more and more hostility toward Wilder as evidenced by explicit and derogatory terms used to describe Wilder himself and Amber, as well as with other friends on social media.
On the morning of October 11, 2018, Amber discovered Wilder on the floor of the room he was sleeping in, outside of his crib, and unresponsive. Wilder was pronounced dead on the scene. The following day, Wilder’s body was sent off for an autopsy that would later list the cause of death to be undetermined.
Eleven days after Wilder was found dead, WFPD returned to the residence with a search warrant and collected evidence.
On October 26, 2018, Wilder’s father, Bubba McDaniel, was arrested for making a terroristic threat against Staley on Facebook, alleging Staley had murdered Wilder. He was released from jail the following day and the first “Justice 4 Wilder” protest was held in Wichita Falls. The “Justice 4 Wilder” campaign would eventually expand to a national campaign.
In January 2019, local authorities provide an update on their investigation into Wilder’s death, but no arrests were made, and very little new information was released. In April 2019, Bubba and Amber would file a wrongful death civil lawsuit against Staley, the man they believed to be responsible for Wilder’s death.
That same month, on April 6, 2019, Amber and Bubba were married.
In September 2019, Staley was arrested in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, for public intoxication and assaulting a nurse at the hospital. The following month, on October 11, protests took place in Wichita Falls on the one-year anniversary of Wilder’s death, with no new information on the investigation by police.
On October 21, 2019, vandalism was reported at Staley’s residence on Irving Place where Wilder was found dead, spray painted with “Justice 4 Wilder” and “baby killer.”
By June 2020, still, no arrests were made in connection to Wilder’s death. Bubba, Amber, and other residents and family members would again protest outside of the WFPD. Eventually, however, Amber and Staley were named as persons of interest by the WFPD.
In July 2020, after a review of Wilder’s autopsy from a Dallas County Medical Examiner, it was determined that Wilder’s death was indeed “suspicious” and it was suggested that Wilder died a “homicidal death by smothering.”
On October 8, 2020, nearly two years after Wilder’s death, Staley was arrested in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, and WFPD officials announced charges had been filed against him for Wilder’s murder. A Wichita County grand jury would indict him on October 28, 2020.
On November 2, 2020, Staley would bonded out of jail, and four days later, entered a plea of “not guilty” of the murder of Wilder McDaniel.
In March 2021, 30th District Court Judge Jeff McKnight recused himself from presiding over Staley’s capital murder trial, beginning a four-month revolving door in which two other judges were appointed and then recused until finally Judge Everett Young was appointed to preside over the case.
On July 8, 2021, Amber McDaniel, Wilder’s mother, was arrested on charges of endangering a child and tampering with evidence after police discovered text messages between her and Staley. Those charges are still pending in Wichita County.
In August 2021, the State, represented by Wichita County District Attorney John Gillespie, announced they would not seek the death penalty for the capital murder charge against Staley but would be seeking life in prison without the possibility of parole. They also added a tampering with evidence charge, alleging Staley staged Wilder’s body after he died.
Then in January 2022, Staley’s defense attorneys Mark Daniel and Terri Moore filed a motion for a change of venue, claiming due to media coverage and the threat to his own safety, Staley would be unable to receive a fair trial in Wichita County. After several months, that motion was granted and the trial was transferred to Tarrant County’s Criminal District Court 3.
Testimony in the capital murder trial of Staley is set to get underway at 9 a.m. on Monday, February 27, 2023.
This is a developing story. Stick with Texoma’s Homepage for updates as the capital murder trial of James Staley in connection to Wilder McDaniel’s death takes place at the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center in Fort Worth, Texas.