WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — A Wichita Falls woman who pleaded guilty to felony charges connected to the 2018 murder of her 2-year-old son will soon face a jury of 12 men and women from Tarrant County, who will determine her sentence.
Amber Nichole McDaniel, 33, of Wichita Falls, is facing a sentence ranging from probation to a total of up to 12 years behind bars on the two felony charges filed against her relating to the death of her son, 2-year-old Jason Wilder McDaniel, in October 2018.
Jury selection is set to commence at the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center in Fort Worth on Monday, September 11, 2023, exactly 59 months after Wilder was found deceased inside a residence in Wichita Falls.
Wilder’s mom pleads to charges related to his death
McDaniel pleaded guilty on April 28, 2023, to charges of endangering a child and tampering with evidence in connection to the death of her son on October 11, 2018.
Following McDaniel’s plea hearing, officials with the Wichita County District Attorney’s Office said both parties agreed to move her sentencing trial out of Wichita County. On August 30, 2023, 30th District Court Judge Jeff McKnight granted a motion moving the trial to Tarrant County. McDaniel elected for a jury to set her punishment.
Keeping with an order signed by Judge McKnight in May 2023, the trial has been specially set to begin on Monday, September 11, 2023, with jury selection and voir dire proceedings set to get underway first thing in the morning.
Since McDaniel has already entered her pleas on both charges, the jury of 12 men and women from Tarrant County will not be tasked with determining whether she is guilty or innocent, only what her sentence will ultimately be.
According to officials with the Wichita County District Attorney’s Office, McDaniel faces anywhere from 6 to 24 months in a state jail for the endangerment charge and anywhere from 2 to 10 years in prison for the tampering charge. Since McDaniel has no prior felony convictions on her record, she will be eligible for probation on these charges.
Familiar venue will house McDaniel’s trial
During a hearing held on Friday, August 25, 2023, Judge McKnight said that McDaniel’s trial will take place in Trial Room E on the seventh floor of the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center in downtown Fort Worth.
Ironically, this courtroom is located on the same floor in the same venue where less than six months ago, in March 2023, James Irven Staley, III, McDaniel’s former boyfriend, was convicted of Wilder’s murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
During Staley’s capital murder trial, McDaniel spent more than eight hours on the stand testifying against him. She did so despite the fact that the charges against her were still pending and no plea agreement was made in exchange for her testimony.
While on the stand, McDaniel was asked by Assistant Prosecutor Lisa Tanner why she would take the stand against Staley with pending charges, rather than exercising her 5th Amendment right, at her own peril.
“Because I owe it to my son,” McDaniel answered.
Familiar faces at a familiar venue
The familiar setting of McDaniel’s trial comes with many familiar faces, such as John Gillespie, Wichita County’s District Attorney, who will serve as the trial’s lead prosecutor, just as he did during Staley’s capital murder trial in March, along with Wichita County’s 30th District Court Judge Jeff McKnight, who will preside over the trial in Tarrant County
Multiple witnesses who testified against Staley in March have also been subpoenaed by the defense to take the stand in McDaniel’s trial, including WFPD Detective Chad Nelson, who was the lead investigator into Wilder’s death, as well as Martha “Bea” Staley, who testified for a short time against her brother, James Staley.
Representing McDaniel is Wichita Falls defense attorney Mark Barber, who recently filed notice that he intends to introduce records from United Regional, Helen Farabee, and the North Texas State Hospital into evidence, including any intake reports.
Included in the state’s potential witness list is Bubba McDaniel, Amber’s husband, and Wilder’s father, as well as Shalah Wakefield, Amber’s sister. Many witnesses who served as experts during Staley’s trial are also on the state’s witness list, including child abuse pediatrician Dr. Suzanne Dakil, though it’s unclear if any or all will be called to take the stand.
The state plans to introduce text messages and social media exchanges between McDaniel and Staley into evidence during this trial, many of which were read in open court during Staley’s capital murder trial.
Before any evidence is admitted or witnesses take the stand, however, a jury of 12 men and women from Tarrant County must be selected. The voir dire process is set to get underway on Monday, September 11, 2023, and once the jury is seated, it will become their responsibility to determine what punishment fits the crimes McDaniel pleaded guilty to.
KFDX and KJTL’s Weekend Anchor Markeshia Jackson and Digital Reporter Josh Hoggard will be traveling to Fort Worth to bring coverage of the trial, including daily updates during each newscast as well as a running live blog of proceedings.
This is a developing story. Stick with Texoma’s Homepage for updates as more information becomes available.