A man was found guilty of capital murder after killing his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son while watching him at his Texas home. After a nine-day trial, a jury on Monday declared James Staley III, 40, guilty of killing Wilder McDaniel in 2018.
The judge gave him a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Staley shouted, “I did not kill Wilder McDaniel,” according to KAUZ, as he was being handcuffed and led from the court.
The toddler was staying at Staley’s $500,000 home in the country club neighborhood of Wichita Falls, Texas, when his mother discovered him dead on the floor next to his crib on October 11, 2018, according to KAUZ.
According to the Times Record News, the boy’s mother, Amber McDaniel, was dating Staley while she was on a break from the boy’s father. According to the newspaper, she hired Staley to watch over Wilder while she was at work at a bar.
Following the boy’s passing, Staley relocated to Okmulgee, Oklahoma, where he was apprehended in October 2020, according to the Times Record News. A grand jury indicted him for first-degree felony murder and capital murder in the death of the boy, leading to his arrest.
According to an autopsy report from January 24, 2019, the child’s death was most likely homicidal due to asphyxiation from a pillow. Want to stay up to date on crime news? For information on intriguing unsolved cases, ongoing trial coverage, and breaking crime news.
Blood on the boy’s pillow “suggests someone placed a pillow over the child’s mouth, ultimately suffocating him,” Dallas County medical examiners wrote in the autopsy report, according to KFDX.
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The autopsy report, “the scene information is irregular and highly suspicious of a homicidal death,” KFDX reported. No explanation is given as to how ended up on the floor or how the items that appeared to be covered in blood ended up in the crib.
“[McDaniel] had no reported history of previously getting out of the crib and there were no fatal injuries present consistent with a fall from the crib to the floor having caused the death,” the autopsy report stated.
Authorities added that it appeared as though Staley had staged the incident to seem like a mishap, according to the Times Record News. When Staley messaged the boy’s mother in August 2018 to say that Wilder had fallen off the bed, McDaniel, the boy’s mother, reported the incident to the police.
From Staley’s cell phone, investigators retrieved the following video: The young child, who had head bruises, is being held by McDaniel while Staley speaks to him, according to the Times Record News. Staley tells the boy in the video, “It is quite the shiner. Staley responds, “That’s not what happened,” when the boy answers yes.
Mother Arrested and Charged
According to KFDX, McDaniel was charged in 2021 with one count of child abandonment and endangerment and one count of tampering with evidence. She is accused of having continued to give Staley access to her son even though Staley repeatedly texted her and posted threats to harm the boy on Facebook, according to the indictment, KFDX reports.
The indictment claims that after unlocking Staley’s phone, investigators discovered texts in which Staley expressed his desire to beat or punch the boy and his actual behavior toward him. The indictment claims that he also made statements in other messages about putting Wilder in a tinderbox or pushing his face into a dirty diaper before pushing it into the toilet.
According to the indictment, “Staley repeatedly communicated violence and hatred toward” the young man, including “that he believed Jason Wilder McDaniel needed to be ‘culled,'” the document said.
The indictment asserts that McDaniel “continued to entrust” Staley to watch over her son, who also stayed at his house, “while she was asleep and/or drunk in the other room,” despite the warnings above.
The indictment further claims that despite noticing bruises on Wilder’s face after Staley had watched him, Wilder’s mother continued to give Staley access to her son, according to KFDX. To the accusations, she has entered a not-guilty plea.
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