FORT WORTH (KFDX/KJTL) — The third day of testimony in the capital murder trial of the man accused of killing two-year-old Jason Wilder McDaniel more than four years ago got underway on Wednesday, March 1, 2023.
Proceedings on the rainy Wednesday morning began with defense attorney Mark Daniel resuming his cross-examination of Detective Chad Nelson, the detective with the Wichita Falls Police Department who served as the lead investigator into the death of Wilder from October 2018 until May 2020.
This follows Tuesday’s proceedings, during which Det. Nelson spent four hours on the stand, testifying in regard to the validity of the more than 90-page report he wrote that encompasses the entirety of the investigation into Wilder’s death for the 19 months that he was in charge of overseeing all aspects of the case.
Aggressive cross-examination continues
On Wednesday morning, Daniel continued grilling Det. Nelson on his handling of the case during the time he oversaw the investigation into Wilder’s death.
On Tuesday, Daniel showed observable signs of frustration and agitation with Det. Nelson’s answers to several questions, and his overall demeanor toward Det. Nelson during his line of questioning seemed harsh.
Daniel would often ask Det. Nelson questions he either could not recall an answer to or questions regarding information to which Det. Nelson was not privy. When Det. Nelson would answer such questions, Daniel would often retort that Det. Nelson was the lead detective and he should know those answers if he was overseeing the investigation.
During Daniel’s cross-examination on Wednesday, March 1, he asked Det. Nelson if Amber McDaniel, Wilder’s mother, made any mention of being intoxicated the night before Wilder was found deceased inside Staley’s residence.
Det. Nelson responded after reviewing his report by noting Amber didn’t specifically mention she was drunk, though it was noted in previous testimony that she’d admitted to drinking more than one bottle of wine that night before she went to bed.
Staley’s defense team then began to question Det. Nelson about alleged activity on social media by Amber McDaniel during a period of time she had informed police that she’d been asleep.
As was his pattern on Tuesday, Daniel would often raise the volume of his voice when Det. Nelson was attempting to search through his report to find answers to questions that were asked. Daniel would also ask Det. Nelson more questions while he was still searching for the answer to a question that was previously asked by Daniel.
Eventually, Wichita County District Attorney John Gillespie objected on the grounds that Daniel was asking Det. Nelson too many questions at once. Presiding Jude Everett Young sustained Gillespie’s objection and instructed Daniel to ask Det. Nelson a single question at a time.
After about an hour of questioning from Daniel, Gillespie then followed up with a set of questions of his own in an apparent attempt to rebut the defense’s cross-examination.
A point made by Det. Nelson on Tuesday afternoon that was reiterated on Wednesday during Gillespie’s line of questioning was that in March 2020, while Det. Nelson was still overseeing the investigation, the global COVID-19 pandemic occurred, which created a staffing shortage at the forensic lab where evidence taken from Staley’s residence was being processed.
Due to that shortage, the forensic lab informed WFPD officials that processing their evidence would take significantly longer than it normally would. Because of this, the case was more or less at a standstill in May 2020.
At that point, Det. Nelson was transferred to the Sex Offender Registry unit and was no longer the lead investigator in the death of Wilder McDaniel.
Gillespie also countered a claim made during a previous line of questioning by the defense that Staley was cooperative in the investigation after Det. Nelson testified that Staley, though cooperative when police responded to his residence on October 11, 2018, ceased cooperating with police after they left the scene.
Gillespie also asked Det. Nelson about when Amber McDaniel began to suspect Staley may have played a role in WIlder’s death, to which he testified that during an interview with Amber a few hours after Wilder was found deceased, he disclosed to her that blood was found on the railing of Wilder’s crib. In the video of that interview, Amber can be seen expressing visible shock on her face, covering her mouth, and saying, “Did James do something?” Amber then buried her head in her hands and began to sob loudly.
Det. Nelson also testified that the following day, October 12, 2018, he conducted another interview with Amber, during which time she said, “I wish he’d killed me and not my baby,” contradicting a point made by the defense that Amber didn’t suspect Staley until around January 2019.
After questioning and cross-examination were completed on Wednesday morning, Det. Nelson was on the witness stand for over 90 minutes. Between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, Det. Nelson spent a total of nearly six hours on the stand.
Staley’s daughter’s aunt takes the stand
The State then called Amber Campisi as their next witness to take the stand in the third day of testimony. Her sister, Tara Campisi, is the mother of Staley’s daughter, who was four years old at the time of Wilder’s death.
Campisi is a member of a prominent family in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Her father established several successful restaurants in the area, most of which are well-reviewed.
Campisi testified that she’d sent police screenshots of a text message conversation she had with Staley on October 10, 2018, and October 11, 2018. The court was shown their text message exchange.
Not shown was a message apparently sent by Staley to Campisi on the app Snapchat on the morning of October 11, 2018, which was automatically deleted after 24 hours, as is standard with Snapchat.
At 11:20 p.m. on October 10, 2018, Staley sent Campisi a message that said, “I have a secret, please let me tell you.”
Over the course of Campisi’s testimony, it was revealed they were discussing a rumored pregnancy of Tara Campisi, the mother of Staley’s child. However, a portion of the exchange took place between 9:12 a.m. and 11:09 a.m. on October 11, 2018, during which time WFPD officers were at Staley’s residence responding to Wilder’s death.
WFPD Sergeant recalls investigation into Wilder’s death
The State called one more witness before dismissing the court for lunch, which was Sergeant Danny Wiggins of the Wichita Falls Police Department. Sgt. Wiggins has been with the WFPD for over 28 years and was in the Crimes Against Children Unit on October 11, 2018.
Sgt. Wiggins testified that when he arrived at the scene, he had to stop Wilder’s maternal grandfather, who was the first to testify in Staley’s capital murder trial on Monday, February 27, from entering the residence.
“He was devastated,” Sgt. Wiggins recalled.
Sgt. Wiggins would later testify that he oversaw the detectives who were investigating Wilder’s death, including Det. Nelson, and that he gave assignments to those detectives as they investigated the scene.
Sgt. Wiggins also recalled that he was present during the execution of the search warrant at Staley’s residence on October 22, 2018. He testified that a truck and trailer were at the residence and it appeared as if they were being used by someone to move out of the residence.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Terri Moore asked Sgt. Wiggins if he instructed the crime scene technician to bag the contents of Wilder’s crib together in a single bag, to which Sgt. Wiggins responded that he did not.
The defense then reiterated a point they’ve made several times in the first few days of proceedings, that Staley could’ve gotten rid of a majority of the evidence that was seized on October 22, 2018, but he didn’t, implying his cooperation with the investigation.
More testimony is still to come on Wednesday
Testimony is set to resume at 1 p.m. on Wednesday in Auxillary Trial Room A of the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center.
So far, only 10 witnesses of the State’s potential witness pool of 350 individuals have been called to testify.
Wilder’s mother, Amber McDaniel, as well as the mother of Staley’s daughter, Tara Campisi, are still expected to testify at some point during the trial, though at this time it is unclear when those testimonies will take place.
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.