James Staley murder trial: Testimonies continue for seventh day

Published: Mar. 7, 2023 at 9:36 AM CST
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WICHITA FALLS, Texas (KAUZ) - Testimonies continued for the seventh day on Tuesday, March 7, 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.*


Staley’s lawyers continued their cross-examination of Amber McDaniel, Wilder’s mother, on Tuesday.

The defense played several videos of Wilder and Staley, and then asked Amber if it looked like Wilder was uncomfortable with Staley in those videos. She said yes to one and no to a few others.

Staley’s lawyers then asked Amber if she remembered reacting to Facebook posts the night Wilder died, to which she said, “no, I do not recall.”

The defense asked Amber if she ever told former lead detective Chad Nelson about the conversation she had with Staley in the bathroom the night of Wilder’s death. This conversation was when Staley mocked Wilder and told him to shut up. The defense stated Amber chose not to tell Nelson that those were the last words Staley said to Wilder. They pointed out that Amber didn’t choose to tell detectives about that conversation until later in the investigation.

Staley’s lawyers then ended their cross-examination of Amber.


Prosecutors asked Amber if she was thinking clearly right after she had just found her child dead on the floor. Amber said, “no.” They then asked her if her mind was more clear a few months after Wilder died, to which Amber said, “yes.”

The prosecution asked if it was normal for Staley to call Wilder names, tell him to shut up, for him to mock Wilder, and for them to argue about it. Amber said, “yes” to all.

Prosecutors said the counsel for the defense has mentioned several times that the texts Staley sent about beating Wilder were just his dark sense of humor and “That’s just James.” They then said, “After seeing a video of someone hitting a sleeping child in the face, those text messages are no longer jokes.”

Amber is no longer on the stand at this point.


Martha Bea Staley, James’ younger sister, was the next person to take the stand.

Prosecutors read messages James had sent to Bea and her father in a group chat, with one of them saying Bea’s response was “worse than asphyxiation.” The prosecution asked Bea if her brother is known to be manipulative, to which she said, “yes.”

During the defense’s turn to ask questions, they asked Bea if her and James are estranged. Bea said she wasn’t until recently and will always love her brother.

James’ lawyers then asked if Bea was writing a book about her “messed up childhood,” to which she said she does plan to write a book. The defense responded with, “your court appearance here would be a good chapter in your book, wouldn’t it?”


Dallas County Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Hastings was the next person called to testify. He was the person who performed Wilder’s autopsy.

Hastings has performed nearly 3,000 autopsies in total. He started his testimony by explaining the difference between manners of death.

For Wilder’s autopsy, Hastings said petechiae was the first thing of significance that stood out to him, which he said can often be seen in death that result from asphyxiation. Hastings said the locations of the petechiae were significant with the possibility of strangulation, and he said there were lots of them.

Hastings testified that when he examined Wilder’s body, he knew it was potentially a homicide. He said the source of the blood from Wilder’s mouth was the abrasions on the inside of his lips, and they were consistent with pressure on the mouth or force that directed the lips into the teeth.

Hastings said he has not seen a child’s death that resulted from a short fall, but he knows other examiners who have seen it. He said in a falling death, you would often see internal injuries to the head, which Wilder did not have.

Hastings said his opinion was that Wilder was murdered. In his findings, he said there was nothing consistent with Wilder dying from a fall on his head.

Staley’s lawyers began their cross-examination of Hastings. The defense pointed out that Hastings received additional information regarding this case, and it did not change his mind about his “undetermined” findings regarding the autopsy.

Staley’s lawyers then asked Hastings if he was aware that according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children longer than 35 inches should be transitioned to a toddler bed, instead of a crib. Hastings replied, “No, I don’t deal with living patients.”

The defense then asked Hastings about the abrasions found in Wilder’s mouth being referred to as “superficial” on the autopsy report, and asked if that means they did not break the skin. Hastings said they did damage the inside lining of Wilder’s mouth.


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.