James Staley murder trial: Amber McDaniel takes the stand on sixth day

Published: Mar. 6, 2023 at 9:16 AM CST
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WICHITA FALLS, Texas (KAUZ) - Testimonies continued for the sixth day on Monday, March 6, 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.

*WARNING: This report contains graphic content. Viewer discretion is advised.*


Amber McDaniel, Wilder’s mother, took the stand just after 9 a.m. Monday morning.

Prosecutors asked her if she smothered or strangled Wilder, to which she said “no.” They then asked her if she bears any responsibility for Wilder’s death. Amber testified that she feels she ignored every red flag she should have seen, and she has still not forgiven herself in the last four and a half years.

Amber said she is testifying to own her part in Wilder’s death.

Talking of her pregnancy with Wilder, Amber called it “perfect.” She said Wilder was a healthy child and was rarely sick other than ear infections and an incident of food poisoning.

Amber testified that she met Staley in the summer of 2018 through her best friend at the time. Her friend met Staley through Tinder, and Amber went with her to Staley’s house so that she would not be alone. However, this turned into a relationship between Staley and Amber.

According to Amber, Staley asked “right off the bat” for her to bring Wilder over to swim with his daughter. Amber said Staley seemed really good with Wilder in the beginning. Amber testified that the relationship between her and Staley turned romantic within two weeks, and she and Wilder started staying over at Staley’s house within three weeks.


The first red flag Amber said she saw was at a time when Staley’s daughter was not present. Staley, Amber and Wilder were eating dinner and Wilder wanted to sit in Amber’s lap. Amber said James didn’t like this and he said she was babying him. Staley then became angry and said they should leave.

According to Amber, Staley then texted her saying she was a bad mom and Wilder was a crybaby. Amber blocked him, and he then messaged her on Facebook. Prosecutors showed a Facebook message exchange between Amber and Staley where he said p****** and s******* need to be culled, allegedly referring to Wilder and Bubba. Amber said she did not know what “culled” meant at that time.

Staley then messaged her the next day apologizing about what he said and blaming the outbursts on not having his mood stabilizers. Amber said she just thought the name calling was Staley trying to get under her skin, but looking back now, she said this was a giant red flag.

Amber testified that she stopped being eager to take Wilder to Staley’s house after this. She said every time they argued, it seemed to circle around Wilder.

However, she kept taking Wilder over because things seemed to be getting better, though she would sometimes leave Wilder with her parents.

According to Amber’s testimony, Wilder had a small Mickey Mouse toy he always carried with him, but one morning it was sitting on the kitchen counter in Staley’s house with its ears and limbs burnt off. Amber testified that Staley said the “kitchen monster” had done that to the toy. She said she thought it felt a little sickening that Staley did that to one of Wilder’s favorite toys.

Amber testified that she did not know about the video of Staley hitting Wilder’s face until about a month ago, as of March 6, 2023. Prosecutors then showed a selfie photo that Amber took with Wilder after the incident, which showed a significant bruise on Wilder’s forehead and down the side of his face. Amber said the bruising stuck around for a while.

When Staley’s mother saw Wilder’s injuries, Amber said she asked, “is James back on drugs?”

Amber continued her testimony, saying she kept Wilder out of daycare during this time so people would not see his bruise and think he was being abused. Prosecutors asked if the bruising incident was a red flag and Amber said, “it was the biggest one of them all.”

Amber said Wilder never once attempted to get out of his crib in his entire life.

After the bruising incident, Amber said things cooled off for a bit, but Staley continued with his dark humor “jokes” about Wilder. When Amber would get mad at the things Staley said about Wilder, he allegedly told her she was crazy for thinking he was serious when he would say hateful things.

Amber testified that she just thought Wilder wasn’t sure about having another man in his life and he “quickly hated going over there.” Staley got mad at this and started calling Wilder derogatory names in response.


Amber then detailed the events that happened on Oct. 10, 2018. Wilder was found dead on the morning of Oct. 11, 2018.

Amber testified that she and Wilder had stayed with her parents the night before. Her and her father went out for lunch before picking Wilder up early from daycare. Wilder was hungry, so they went to Whataburger to get some food. Prosecutors then showed a photo of Wilder at Whataburger, which Amber said was the last photo she has of him.

Prosecutors then asked about the last bath Amber gave Wilder that happened that night. Staley allegedly came in with a shot and glass of wine while it was happening. Amber testified that Wilder said, “no James,” causing Staley to mock him and tell him to shut up. Amber said she told Staley not to talk to her son that way.

Amber then sang Wilder his favorite song, “H.O.L.Y.” by Florida Georgia Line, before putting him to bed. Amber then asked Wilder, “Are you afraid because James yelled?” to which Wilder replied “yes.” She then said, “you don’t ever have to be afraid because momma will always be here.” Amber is crying heavily at this time in the courtroom.

Wilder then asked about his Catboy toy. Amber said she searched the house but could not find it. Staley saw Amber searching and allegedly said Wilder didn’t need the toy and he’s probably already asleep. Amber said Staley had already shut the door to Wilder’s room, and this was the last time she saw her son alive.


Amber testified that she woke up on the morning of Oct. 11, 2018, and realized her alarm had not gone off. She knew she would have to hurry to get Wilder ready for class in time. She said she also realized Staley was not in the master bedroom with her and his side of the bed still looked untouched.

She said she walked down the hallway, noticed the door to Wilder’s room was open, and looked inside. Amber said she could see that Wilder was not in his crib, and then saw that he was on the floor in front of the crib with his back facing her. She said it looked like he was asleep.

Amber testified that she ran to get him and Wilder’s skin was discolored and blood was coming out of his mouth. She said she picked him up and started screaming. Amber said this is when she knew her child was dead.

She then ran through the house trying to find a phone. Amber said she found Staley in the far living room of the house, and told him to get her a phone. Staley allegedly dialed 911 and then threw the phone down at her while she was on the floor holding Wilder. Amber said that while she tried to grab the phone, Staley tried to give Wilder CPR. Amber told him “no” because it was obvious he had been dead for a while.

Amber said she then went to the front yard to meet with emergency services. She said Staley did not go outside with her, and he did not once console her as she held Wilder.

Amber testified that she originally thought Wilder could have fallen out of the crib even though he had never tried to get out of it before. She said she thought it was an accident at first, but that changed after former lead detective Chad Nelson told her blood was found in the crib. This is when she asked, “did James do something?” Amber said she told police that morning, “I know in my heart James killed Wilder.”

After a break for lunch, Amber’s testimony continued around 1:30 p.m. She said Staley would often tell her he found Amber and Wilder in the dumpster, which she assumed was in reference to the disparities in their income.

Our reporters in courtroom said Staley has shown no emotion during Amber’s testimony.


Staley’s lawyers have begun their cross-examination of Amber. They started by asking about her past as a WFPD dispatcher, and if she knows any of the officers. Amber said she knew a few of them.

The defense then asked if she was a regular drinker at the time of Wilder’s death, to which Amber said, “I drank.” They then asked how much she drank the night of Wilder’s death, and Amber replied, “there was a little left in the wine bottle.”

Staley’s lawyers asked her how many times and what dates she met with the prosecutors, and Amber said she met with them twice.

When asked if she had a chance to read over her transcribed interviews with investigators, Amber said, “I’ve tried to read through them.” The defense then went over the morning Amber found Wilder dead, asking her detail by detail what happened.

Staley’s lawyers asked if she was aware that he was working on his taxes in October, to which she said she does not recall. Staley’s Lawyer Terri Moore said, “we will visit text messages talking about taxes.”

The defense then asked Amber if she told detectives she was making Facebook searches the night Wilder died, to which Amber said she did not. The defense asked, “you recall all this other stuff, but you don’t remember that?” Amber replied, “correct.”

Moving to a different question, the defense asked Amber about the night in the bath when Staley allegedly made fun of and yelled at Wilder. They asked why Amber told police everything was “normal” in an interview and that they had not been fighting the night Wilder died.

Staley’s lawyers then started questioning answers Amber gave during her interviews with police after Wilder’s death. The defense said some of the answers don’t match up. The defense also asked if Amber is aware that her answers became different after her and Bubba decided to do the civil suit against Staley.

Staley’s lawyers asked Amber if she was trying to get money out of the suit, to which Amber said, “no, I was not looking to get money.” The defense tried to publish the suit to prove Amber did want money, however prosecutors objected due to relevance and Judge Young sustained.

The volume of the conversation then elevated as Staley’s lawyers asked Amber if she is hoping for a dismissal of her charges of tampering with evidence and child endangerment. Amber repeatedly stated she is not hoping for a dismissal and she is focused on the trial, not the future.


The defense team showed messages between Amber and Staley where Staley said Wilder is adorable and lovable. Staley’s lawyers asked, “nothing hateful about that is there,” to which Amber replied, “no.”

More messages were brought up, showing Staley saying Wilder needs to get out without Amber more because he thinks it will be good for him. The defense pointed out that Staley was trying to give Amber advice.

Staley’s lawyers then said he had texted Amber at one point letting her know he gave Wilder and his daughter a bath. They asked where Amber was at that time, to which Amber said she was at work.

The defense read more texts from Staley to Amber, and they claimed the texts he sends her are just his “weird” sense of humor.

The defense then asked Amber what she thought about a video from Staley showing Wilder pooping in a yard. Staley’s lawyers said he got joy out of the “poop video” and it made him laugh.

They presented texts from Staley to Amber that said, “we can show the poop video at his wedding or graduation,” arguing he is making plans to have a future with them as a family.

The defense brought up a text Staley sent to Amber saying, “I love that little n*****.” Staley’s lawyers insinuated that there was no hatefulness between James and Wilder just days before Wilder died.

In another text to Amber, Staley said “Wilder doesn’t smell or feel like someone else’s dirty kid. He feels like my little n*****. But I will still toss him around and torture him when he acts like a n*****.” The defense said this is just Staley’s dark sense of humor.

Staley’s lawyers then showed screenshots from Oct. 9, 2018, in which Staley told Amber he had taxes to do. This is in reference to when Staley left his house the night Wilder died.

The trial will resume on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.


Jury selection ran for three days starting on Feb. 22, 2023, 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.

The defense and prosecution teams made their opening statements on Monday, Feb. 27, 2023, which were followed by testimonies from five people.

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.