WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — James Staley appeared in 89th District Court Wednesday, January 19, 2022, for another pretrial hearing in the capital murder trial for the death of two-year-old Wilder McDaniel.
During the pretrial, attorneys for the man accused of capital murder in the death of Wilder filed a motion for a change of venue because they said there is a climate in Wichita County which could spawn violence and make it impossible to seat a fair and impartial jury for James Staley.
The attorneys filed an 80-page motion for a change of venue to move the trial out of Wichita County, which would further delay the murder trial.
Staley’s lawyers said the case has received more prejudicial and extensive media coverage than any case in years. Among arguments, they pointed to the Justice for Wilder campaign, which they said created so much discussion and attention it destroyed the presumption of innocence of the defendant and tainted the jury pool.
Their attached exhibits include examples of threats of vigilante violence, including one quote of a person who said “It’s time to get out our AR-15 and ammo” and “take care of business”.
They also pointed to the campaign’s signs and bumper stickers all around town, and even cited the district attorney wearing a ballcap with the Justice for Wilder emblem.
The attorneys also pointed to “rants” by Wilder’s father, Bubba McDaniel, who attended the hearing, that were vulgar and promoted violence. They said McDaniel threatened to put a bullet in Staley’s head and “shove a knife up his ***.”
They said McDaniel was charged with making a terroristic threat, but the charge was dismissed by the district attorney. They said he also offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who could provide Staley’s whereabouts.
After McDaniel inflamed supporters, the attorneys said Staley’s home was vandalized. They said Staley was forced to moved because of all the threats.
The attorneys allege statements by District Attorney John Gillespie in a news conference after Staley’s arrest could violate rules of professional conduct on pretrial publicity by tainting the judicial or trial process.
They also accused Gillespie of shopping for an expert to provide an opinion that a crime had been committed because without it, there was “simply no credible evidence” of a crime.
A hearing over the change of venue motion is expected to take place on May 10.
Staley has four charges filed in connection to the Wilder case, three related to the death or injuries to Wilder, and one for tampering with evidence. That charge also alleges Staley staged Wilder’s body, so it would appear he had fallen from his crib.
No trial date has been set, but Gillespie filed notice on August 12, 2021, that the state is ready for trial.
Gillespie also filed notice the state is not seeking the death penalty, but life without parole, if Staley is convicted.
The district attorney’s office is being assisted by a special prosecutor who is a former Tarrant County prosecutor specializing in crimes against children.
Staley’s former girlfriend and the mother of Wilder, Amber McDaniel, faces trial for child endangerment and tampering with evidence after being indicted in July.
The toddler was found dead in October of 2018 in the home Staley and Amber McDaniel lived in together.
The case is being presided over by Everet Young, an appointed Senior District Judge of the 297th district in Tarrant County after two local judges disqualified themselves and another special judge also recused herself.