Testimony will begin Monday in Fort Worth for a closely monitored homicide case that has captured community attention and concern since Jason Wilder McDaniel, 2, was found unresponsive on October 11, 2018.
In preparation for this, jury selection is scheduled for the trial of James Irven Staley III in Fort Worth on Wednesday.
He is accused of killing Wilder at the Staley’s Country Club home on the 2000 block of Irving Place. Authorities suspect the baby was suffocated with a pillow.
At stake for Staley, a 40-year-old Oklahoma businessman from Wichita Falls, is up to life. He pleaded not guilty and was released Tuesday by the Wichita County Law Enforcement Center with $1.25 million in bonds.
At stake for Wilder’s parents, Amber and Robert “Bubba” McDaniel Jr., is justice as they see it for their child’s murder. Bubba, a mixed martial artist and trainer, and Amber are well known in Wichita Falls.
They and their supporters in the #JusticeForWilder movement have long claimed Staley is responsible for the tragedy of the child’s death and have pushed for his arrest, which occurred two years after Wilder’s death.
Senior District Judge Everett Young cited safety concerns, pre-trial publicity and threats from Bubba, 39, in his decision to move the trial to Fort Worth in August in an effort to get a fair and impartial jury.
Prospective jurors will have to fill out questionnaires on Wednesday. The prosecution and defense will begin questioning them on Thursday.
A legion of witnesses and experts could take the stand when testimony begins Monday in Tarrant County Criminal District Court No. 3 in the Tim Curry Justice Center in downtown Fort Worth.
The witnesses subpoenaed range from Wichita County Public Defender David Bost to the child’s mother and Staley’s mother, Nancy.
The trial could become the battle of the experts.
Tom Bevel, listed on both sides, was a prosecution expert in the infamous double murder trial of notorious South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh. Murdaugh is accused of murdering his wife and child.
Bevel did not testify in the ongoing trial and defense attorneys are presenting their case.
Retired from law enforcement, Bevel of Edmond, Oklahoma served as a consultant in crime scene reconstruction and bloodstain analysis.
The defense group has 25 specific experts in its lineup and claims all witnesses designated by prosecutors or used by them as certain expert witnesses. The state has appointed about 100 expert witnesses.
Wilder died while staying at Staley’s home with Amber, who was dating Staley during a time he wasn’t together with Bubba, according to court allegations and autopsy records.
Staley is charged with capital murder of a person under 10 and with first-degree murder. A jury is expected to choose between charges. He maintains his innocence of all allegations relating to Wilder and his death.
Staley is also charged with harming a child in connection with an Aug. 31, 2018 incident involving Wilder and tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, according to court documents.
Staley is suspected of moving Wilder’s body to stage the crime scene, according to allegations in court documents. Injuring a child and tampering with evidence is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
Amber, 32, was charged with endangering a child, Wilder, and tampering with cell phone evidence, including messages from Staley, according to allegations in court documents.
She pleaded not guilty and was released from jail on Tuesday with $60,000 in bonds, according to online prison and court documents. Child endangering is punishable by up to two years in state prison.
Bubba is serving six years probation. He pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a fatal weapon in connection with a road rage incident on August 15, 2020 in Wichita Falls, according to court documents.
He will avoid a felony conviction if he successfully serves his time on deferred probation.
Trish Choate, a corporate surveillance reporter for the Times Record News, covers education, the courts, breaking news and more. Contact Trish with news tips at [email protected] Her Twitter handle is @Trishapedia.