FORT WORTH (KFDX/KJTL) — The family of Wilder McDaniel spoke with Chief Photographer Curtis Jackson and Digital Reporter Josh Hoggard outside the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center in Fort Worth following the reading of the verdict in the capital murder trial of James Irven Staley, III, for the death of 2-year-old Wilder McDaniel.
Staley was found guilty by a jury of seven men and five women after less than three hours of deliberation on Monday, March 13, 2023, in the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center in Fort Worth, Texas.
This is the first time the family has spoken out since learning the verdict Monday evening.
Wilder’s mother speaks directly to Staley
Amber McDaniel, the mother of Wilder McDaniel, took the stand following the reading of the verdict on Monday afternoon to give a victim impact statement to the court.
Amber McDaniel, who said following the conclusion of Staley’s trial did not have a written statement prepared, looked directly at the defendant the entire time she was giving her statement.
“I waited four and half years to look you in the eyes, James Staley, to tell you that he’s more of a man than you’ll ever be,” Amber McDaniel said. “You’ve made me question myself as a mother. You never deserved Wilder in your life.”
Amber McDaniel continued, telling the defendant how her infant son, Phoenix McDaniel, will never know his older brother.
“My 2-year-old son took you down,” Amber McDaniel said. “You are evil.”
Reaction from Wilder’s father, Bubba McDaniel
Wilder’s father, Bubba McDaniel, took to Facebook following the announcement of the jury’s verdict in the capital murder trial of James Staley.
“I don’t know what to say,” an emotional Bubba McDaniel said. “I’m happy and I’m sad all at the same time.”
Bubba McDaniel prepared a statement that was read to the court following his wife’s victim impact statement by Amanda Early, a friend of McDaniel’s.
“I have so many thoughts in my head,” Early read to the court. “The first one I think of is [that] I lost a two-year-old. I lost a two-year-old to a coward. A coward who thought that my son was to be a part of his vicious cycle. I’m not okay with that and I’ll never be okay with that.”
Early continued to read the words of Bubba McDaniel to the courtroom.
“My son was two,” Early read to the court. “He should’ve never known the fear you put in him. You can say you had this and you can say you had that. You can say things happened to you. People break cycles. People break cycles of abuse like that all the time. It takes a real piece of you-know-what to stay in that same cycle and abuse people that are smaller, tiny, and defenseless.”
The final words of Bubba McDaniel’s statement read by Early to the courtroom echoed well after she was done reading them.
“I’ll be able to keep Wilder’s name alive” Early read. “Every time they hear the Staley name, every time they think Staley, all they’ll think… Baby killer. Have fun dying alone in prison, as you should.”
Wilder’s family responds to Staley’s claim of innocence
After being found guilty of capital murder and automatically sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, defendant James Staley was remanded into the custody of the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office.
While deputies were placing Staley into handcuffs, Staley turned to the gallery, looked directly at a large section where many of Wilder McDaniel’s family members were seated, and said out loud, “I did not kill Wilder McDaniel.”
One of Wilder’s family members quickly responded with, “Yes you did,” although it is unclear at this time which family member said that.
Judge Everett Young quickly recalled the courtroom back to order.
Statement from Wilder’s older brother
Bryan McDaniel, the 17-year-old son of Bubba McDaniel from a previous relationship and Wilder’s older brother, prepared a statement that was not read in the courtroom.
Bryan McDaniel’s mother handed our team a copy of the statement, which can be found below:
Everything in my world was as it should be. I was 12 years old, happy, [and] carefree. My mom came to my school one day with gut-wrenching news that my sweet, innocent, perfect baby brother was gone. Everything changed after that day.
At the time, we didn’t know why or how he was no longer with us. We went to my Mema’s house and waited on my dad to get back from work. I remember sitting in my Mema’s living room hearing her and my Aunt Courtney crying. I remember watching my dad on a video he posted on social media crying, screaming, [and] wanting to know why. How could this happen to our sweet, innocent Wilder?? My family shielded me from the truth of the horrific realization of what happened to him until after the funeral Sitting through that funeral was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my life, aside from the numbness I feel every single day, that never goes away.
My days now are full of panic attacks and depressive states that sneak up on me without notice. No amount of happy, no dose of medication can even remotely touch the surface of the pain I feel or make it better. No matter how many psychiatrists I talk to, counseling visits I attend, they don’t bring him back. They don’t erase the things you did to my baby brother. I should be teaching him how to play baseball, basketball, or watching him play soccer, a sport I’m not particularly great at. I wonder if he would love it. I won’t ever know. Instead, I visit him at his gravesite.
You have robbed us all of seeeing him grow into the man he was supposed to be. Someone the total opposite of you. You are a coward. My brother was only 2, but he was more of a man than you’ll ever be. He didn’t deserve to be treated that way. You tortured him for months. Then you took him from us. I know in my heart God took my brother that night to protect him from any more pain that you would have caused. When my brother was calling for daddy in the video the day you hit him in the head, he was not calling for you. We all know that. No matter how many times you forced him to say you were his dad, you are sick for that too. He shouldn’t have been forced to say that. He was afraid of you. He knew what a real dad was like. He had one. That’s Bubba, not you. Our dad would have protected him, had he been given the chance. He’s nothing like you. He isn’t allowed to be here right now because you and your attorneys feared what he would do, but I am. I want you to know that you have destroyed my life. But the fact that today, justice will be served, I can somewhat move forward and have peace knowing you can’t touch or harm another child again. I know you have absolutely zero remorse, but you will meet your maker one day. Wilder, he’s dancing in heaven right now where he will never have to endure the pain you caused him every day.
James Staley, you didn’t just take Wilder’s life, you took all of ours with him. I hope you rot in hell.— Victim Impact Statement from Bryan McDaniel
Wilder’s grandfather speaks to the media
David Taylor, the stepfather of Amber McDaniel who was known to his grandson, Wilder, as “Papa”, spoke with the media following the jury’s guilty verdict in the capital murder trial of James Staley.
Taylor, who was the first witness called by the prosecution, testified that the last words he heard his grandson speak were, “No, James”, a phrase recalled by Wichita County District Attorney John Gillespie during his impassioned closing arguments on Monday morning.
“Well, it’s a long time coming. Four and a half years,” Taylor said. “But we finally got some justice for Wilder.”
Taylor then spoke about what justice for Wilder really means. Taylor said it means a life sentence without parole for Staley, the man convicted of taking his life in 2018.
“He’s been walking around for the last four and a half years without a care in the world,” Taylor said. “Well, he’s gotta care about something today. He’s off the streets. Anyone who takes the life of a 2-year-old with his bare hands doesn’t need to walk the streets of the free world again.”
Taylor expressed thankfulness to the Wichita Falls community for their support throughout the proceedings of the capital murder trial of Staley.
Wilder’s aunts give tearful reaction to guilty verdict
Courtney Bachman, who is the sister of Wilder’s father, Bubba McDaniel, and Shalah Wakefield, who is the sister of Wilder’s mother, Amber McDaniel, spoke with the media following the jury’s guilty verdict in Staley’s capital murder trial.
“It feels surreal that this day came,” Bachman said as her voice began to break. “He’s right where he needs to be so he doesn’t hurt another child. It doesn’t bring Wilder back, but he’s a danger.”
Wakefield, who testified during the first week of testimony, also responded when asked what she would say to Wilder.
“Oh my goodness,” Wakefield said, her voice also beginning to break. “I would just have to tell him I love you, Wild-butt.”
“We miss him every day,” Bachman added. “But we know he’s in heaven. We know he’s where he needs to be.”