James Staley murder trial: Testimony phase begins

Published: Feb. 27, 2023 at 10:29 AM CST
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WICHITA FALLS, Texas (KAUZ) - The testimony phase started Monday, Feb. 27, 2023, for the trial of the man accused of murdering 2-year-old Jason Wilder McDaniel in his home in October of 2018.

Judge Everett Young is presiding over James Staley III’s case at the Tarrant County Courthouse in Fort Worth. News Channel 6′s Alyssa Osterdock and Joseph Saint will be covering the trial to bring you the latest developments.


Opening statements for the murder trial got underway just after 10 a.m. The prosecution spent about an hour and a half on their opening statements to the jury.

Wichita Co. District Attorney John Gillespie and former Texas Assistant Attorney General Lisa Tanner told jurors they will present video and text message evidence that will show what was in Staley’s heart at the time of the murder, contempt for Wilder.

Prosecutors went on to say days before Wilder’s death, a GoPro was set up inside the home. They said a video will show Wilder sleeping on the couch and Staley hiding behind. Prosecutors said Staley will be seen jumping up from behind the couch and slapping Wilder. They said Wilder would often say, “no, James,” even when Staley was not around.

Prosecutors then spoke about Wilder’s mother, Amber McDaniel. Amber is facing tampering with evidence and endangering a child charges in connection with Wilder’s death. The prosecution said Amber made bad decisions but she has been fully cooperative with investigators. They said she thought comments and text messages made by Staley, that were derogatory towards Wilder or his father, Bubba McDaniel, were just Staley’s dark sense of humor.

Prosecutors also explained the situation with the deleted text messages, which led to McDaniel’s tampering charge. They said Amber showed them to police and when she was given back her phone, she deleted them because she did not want to see them following her son’s death. When police asked to see her phone again, that’s when law enforcement officials discovered they had been deleted. The prosecution said Amber is heartbroken over the loss of her son and is not complicit in his death.

The defense team, including Staley’s attorney Mark G. Daniel, began their opening statements by saying Staley has a “potty mouth and dark sense of humor.” Daniel said according to the American Pediatrics, a child who is 38-inches tall needs a bed, not a crib, saying Wilder was too big for a crib and that he could have fallen out.

Staley’s defense team said Amber reacted to social media posts and made web searches during the time she claimed to be asleep on the night of Wilder’s death. The defense said Staley was never asked to provide information and that law enforcement officials just obtained warrants. They also claimed the prosecution went “doctor shopping” to find someone who would support evidence that Staley killed Wilder.

The defense then questioned the authenticity of the crime scene reconstructionist who looked at the evidence and concluded that Wilder was suffocated by Staley. Daniel wrapped the nearly hour-long opening statement by asking the jury to look behind the curtain and ensure they look at the facts of the case.


Following opening statements Monday morning, testimony got underway. The first to take the stand was David Taylor, Amber’s step-father. As you can imagine, he was emotional talking about his step-daughter Amber’s relationship with Wilder.

Through tears Taylor said he remembers the little boy grabbing his face and saying, “no James, no James house.” It was the last thing Wilder said to him. The grandfather explained at the time he thought the two year old was just not taking to having a new father figure in his life.

After Taylor, several of the witnesses who took the stand this afternoon responded to the residence in October of 2018. They included EMT Charity Harrison, WFPD officer Kacy Kirkpatrick, WFPD office Sgt. Charlie Eipper, and crime scene technician Kelly Collins. Each expressed several times that Staley showed no emotions when they responded to the scene, which they said was odd since his girlfriend just discovered her child had passed away in his home.

The defense then repeatedly mentioned that all people are different and there is no “one way” to react to a tragedy like this one. But one WFPD officer who responded to the scene recalled seeing Staley dry heaving into a plastic bag saying he was going to throw up.

There were several times jurors could be seen covering their eyes while evidence was being presented, as it is a tough thing to see. Testimony is expected to resume on Tuesday at 9 a.m.


Jury selection ran for three days last week, with 100 potential jurors dwindled down to seven men and seven women who will serve as 12 jurors and two alternates. Staley’s trial is expected to last up to two weeks, according to Judge Young.

Staley has pleaded not guilty to the crime. In August of 2022, Staley’s change of venue request was approved and his trial was moved from Wichita County to Tarrant County.

Staley’s attorneys had said the local jury pool has been tainted against him due to media coverage and Facebook outcry, and the safety of Staley and anyone connected to the case was also a concern.