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FORT WORTH, Texas — During the second day of testimony in Amber Nichole McDaniel’s punishment trial, the jury watched videotaped interviews in which the young mother gave information about the murder of her child and the man she came to believe did it.
In her first interview with Wichita Falls police Detective Chad Nelson, Amber is extremely distraught.
It is just hours after she found the dead body of her child 2-year-old Jason Wilder McDaniel on Oct. 11, 2018, on the floor beneath the crib she put him to bed in the night before.
She and Wilder were staying with her then-boyfriend, James Irven Staley III, at his Country Club area home on Irving Place.
“Is there any reason there would be blood on his pillow in his crib?” Nelson asked her.
“Was there blood?” Amber said, becoming more upset. “Did James do it? Oh, my God. Oh, my God.”
She cried loudly in the interview room.
In the third interview with Chad Nelson shown, it is January 2018, and Amber has had some time to begin dealing with the trauma. She has also become convinced that Staley killed her child.
Wichita County District Attorney John Gillespie questioned Nelson to highlight incidents in which Amber appeared to be holding back information about heinous electronic messages Staley sent her about Wilder, as well as other information Nelson confirmed would also have been helpful in the investigation of Wilder’s homicide.
In the third interview, Nelson’s tone changed toward Amber from sympathetic and comforting to a focused drive to get information and confront Amber about remaining with Staley after he demonstrated that he was jealous of Wilder and threatening to the child.
Nelson told her it didn’t look good for her.
Nelson told her it didn’t look good.
“Why were you there Oct. 10?” he said. “Why would you still be there?”
Later in the interview, Amber said, “If it does make me look bad, if people want to judge me, but the thing is, it wasn’t always like that. James was fun.”
Wilder did like Staley, Amber said.
“But James did try so hard and he would get so frustrated,” Amber said. “I look back, and I think, you’re so stupid. … I tell myself that I wasn’t a good mom. and it’s not about me. There is nothing that can happen to me that is worse than losing him.”
At times Wednesday, Amber wept in court. In one incident, she shed tears when photos of Staley’s home and her dead child were displayed before the jury.
In all, jurors saw three interviews Amber gave to police. While electronic messages that have been read to the jury appeared to have been gone over in during Staley’s trial, most of the interviews with Amber were shown publicly for the first time.
Amber and Staley’s tempestuous relationship played out over about 75 days in 2018. It ended with Wilder’s death.
Staley smothered Wilder with a pillow in a crib and then moved the body to the floor to make it look like the child died as a result of a fall from the crib, according to testimony in his trial.
The child’s father, Robert “Bubba” McDaniel Jr., started the Justice for Wilder campaign, pushing for police to arrest Staley for his child’s murder.
The vocal campaign has played out through social media, fundraisers, protests and other means.
Staley was arrested on a capital murder charge about two years later in Oklahoma.
He was convicted of capital murder of a child under 10 on March 13 and sentenced to life in prison without parole at the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center in Fort Worth.
In late April, Amber pleaded guilty to child endangerment for bringing Wilder around Staley, who was hostile and threatening toward the child.
She also pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence for deleting electronic messages between her and Staley exchanged from around Sept. 27, 2018, through Oct. 10, 2018.
Prosecutors say those messages were key to the investigation of Wilder’s homicide. They were not available for review until about two and a half years after the child’s killing when the authorities were able to break into Staley’s iPhone.
Amber gave extensive testimony during Staley’s trial, incriminating herself in the process. She could have claimed the Fifth Amendment and stayed silent.
She had no plea deal during her testimony or when she pleaded guilty in 30th District Court in Wichita Falls.
Amber elected to have a jury determine her punishment. She is eligible for parole and has no previous felony convictions.
She faces two to 10 years in prison for evidence tampering, a third-degree felony, and six months to 24 months in state jail for child endangerment, a state jail felony.
Thirtieth District Judge Jeff McKnight ordered her punishment trial moved to Tarrant County because of pretrial publicity. McKnight is presiding over the trial at the Tim Curry Criminal Justice System.
Gillespie is assisted by Chief Felony Prosecutor Kyle Lessor. Wichita Falls defense attorney Mark Barber is representing Amber.
Her husband, Bubba, is recovering from a nonfatal gunshot wound to his arm. He was shot Sunday in Wichita Falls.
Bubba’s 17-year-old son, who was also present during the shooting, was not injured. Bubba had accompanied his son, who was having issues with someone.
Police believe Edondre Lyntre Smith, 21, of Wichita Falls shot Bubba. He was taken into custody Monday after a standoff with Wichita Falls police at an apartment complex on Professional Drive.
11 a.m. Tye Davis took the stand. He is the chief investigator of the Wichita County DA’s Office.
Davis testified that he was involved in the capital murder investigation against Staley. He believes he met with Amber three times in the DA’s Office. Gillespie explained each meeting how important it was for her to provide information about Staley.
They met with Amber three times. They met with her after the October 2020 arrest of Staley in Okmulgee, Oklahoma.
Davis confirmed that she did not disclosure information about Staley’s electronic messages and that the DA explained it was a difficult circumstantial evidence case although they were able to make an arrest.
As for the messages that law enforcement had in which Staley says that Wilder and Bubba should be culled, Amber told them that she did not understand what the world “culled” meant.
She told them that Staley targeted Wilder when he was intoxicated, and she seemed to minimize the August messages about culling.
Amber disclosed some intimate sexual information about her relationship with Staley to them. She also provided Wilder’s toy that was a figure of Mickey Mouse.
Amber indicated to them that Staley was “kind and sweet” to Wilder, and she didn’t know why Wilder was not warming up to him, Davis testified.
He has reviewed the text messages between Amber and Staley. Davis testified that as a parent, he doesn’t agree with someone speaking to his child that way.
A photo displayed before the jury shows the toy with the ears ripped off and part of the arms. Staley mutilated the toy, according to testimony.
Barber cross-examined Davis.
He testified there were texts on the phone that indicated Amber had done a factory reset of her cell phone. So texts before the factory reset around Sept. 26 would not have been available.
Davis confirmed that some women get into abusive relationships, and some women stay in them.
Gillespie began questioning Davis again.
Davis confirmed that Amber pleaded guilty to deleting messages that she exchanged with Staley after the factory reset up through Oct. 10, 2020.
Davis confirmed that if someone destroys evidence, that can indicate their consciousness of being guilty.
Barber had more questions for Davis.
Davis agreed there was hostility toward Amber after her arrest. But he couldn’t address whether there was generally hostility toward her before the arrest.
Barber asked Davis if he knew there were rumors that Wilder died because he got into pills, and Amber was blamed for it.
Davis said he was not aware of it. He told the jury that her testimony helped the prosecution’s case in Staley’s trial.
Barber asked if there’s a crime scene with blood on the floor and blood on a pillow, would it be a good idea to secure the crime scene so the evidence can’t be tampered with.
Ideally, yes, Davis said.
Barber asked if Davis were aware that a search warrant was not obtained until Oct. 22, 2018, for Staley’s home?
Davis said yes.
Gillespie took over questioning and asked Davis if he was aware that the pillow and other evidence was seized just after his death, and there was a search conducted at that time. Then a search warrant was served on the house for a second search.
Davis said yes.
9:10 a.m. Wichita Falls police Sgt. Brian Sheehan testified about the investigation of Wilder’s murder and the part that electronic messages that Amber deleted played in it, as well as the Justice for Wilder campaign.
He told the jury that he updated Bubba about the murder investigation and not Amber. She was a suspect since she was one of two people in the home when Wilder died.
Sheehan testified that Amber joined in with social media posts for the Justice For Wilder campaign.
The prosecution displayed a social media post from Jan. 11, 2019, for the jury to see. It was made by Amber.
She wrote that after getting out of Wichita Falls for awhile, she realize “how screwed up it is that the person who murdered my child still isn’t arrested.”
Amber said she was done being quiet and done crying.
“I’m tired of nothing being done. I’m pissed. My baby was my world,” Amber said in the post. “I won’t pretend like nothing happened anymore.”
Gillespie read comments on Amber’s post from people in support of her.
One comment included a Nov. 6, 2018, post that basically asked people to back off and said, “We believe that the Wichita Falls Police Department will do their due diligence.”
Amber responded on the thread, saying to disregard that post. It was put up because they thought the police would handle things and didn’t want to mess up the investigation. But the police screwed it up, themselves.
Sheehan testified that when Amber was arrested in July 2021 on charges of child endangerment and tampering with evidence, the reaction from the Wichita Falls community was shock.
Sheehan told the jury there was a feeling that a fraud had been carried out by Amber, who participated in the Justice for Wilder campaign.
10:37 a.m. McKnight sends the jury out for a mid-morning break.
Trish Choate, enterprise watchdog reporter for the Times Record News, covers education, courts, breaking news and more. Contact Trish with news tips at [email protected]. Read her recent work here. Her X handle is @Trishapedia.
This article originally appeared on Wichita Falls Times Record News: Day 3 Live Blog: Amber McDaniel trial
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