FORT WORTH, Texas — 3:24 p.m. Wednesday, March 8, 2023: The jury comes back, and forensic expert Tom Bevel continues to be questioned by defense attorney Mark G. Daniel.
He says that Bevel made reference to bruising showing a struggle.
Bevels says there was a bruise on the left elbow, wand bruising, period, wherever it was located would support evidence of a struggle.
Daniel notes that the autopsy report says the cause and manner of death may be amended if additional information becomes available. He wants to know if Bevel went to SWIFS to share his findings.
Bevel testifies he didn’t. He confirms his report says the attacker held his hand against the child’s neck. His report used to contain pictures of external injuries.
Daniels asks Bevel to look at the jury and tel them he saw a photograph with injuries on the child’s neck.
Special Prosecutor Lisa Tanner objects that Bevel wants to answer but doesn’t want to violate the defense’s motion to exclude some evidence from going before the jury.
Senior District Judge Everett Young tells the attorneys to approach. They have a short conference, and Daniel goes back to his questioning.
Daniel asks Bevel about a nationally televised piece that Anderson Cooper did on CNN criticizing his work.
Bevel says he didn’t, but he does know about the David Camm case.
Special Prosecutor Lisa Tanner objects.
So Daniel asks a general question about criticism of Bevel’s work. Shortly, the defense attorney moves on to the supplemental report Bevel issued in March about the Wilder case.
Daniel says Bevel backed off and came up “with salsa rather than blood,”
“To include salsa as a possibility,” Bevel testifies.
At 3:40 p.m., Daniel passes the witness.
“Let’s talk about the salsa and put it to bed, OK?” Tanner says.
There is a photo of one of Staley’s hands, and there is a reddish color on his fingernail that Bevel testifies is possible blood but it wasn’t tested.
Laster, when he went back and saw photographs of salsa in the sink, so he issued a second report about the salsa, Bevel testifies.
He tells the jury that he can’t eliminate the red stuff on Staley’s hand as blood or salsa since it wasn’t tested.
As for the technical review of his report by a colleague, it wasn’t his job to find typos and grammar errors, he testifies.
2:53 p.m. Wednesday, March 8, 2023: Forensic expert Tom Bevel says he has no explanation for the additional substances extending out from the primary U-shaped bloodstain on the floor.
These additional substances show up in photographs introduced by the defense.
“You also concentrated on trying to suggest some evidence of a struggle” when noting Staley’s DNA was under Wilder’s fingernails, defense attorney Mark G. Daniel says.
“You do know this was his home?” Daniels says.
Bevel testifies that he didn’t know who the crib belonged to.
Daniel says there has been testimony about the crib’s ownership and to presume it to belonged to James.
“You were at least aware that all of these surroundings was something he owns?” Daniel says.
Daniels asks if there is some way to test for salsa on Wilder.
James Irven Staley III was eating chips and salsa in the time leading up to the discovery of Wilder’s body, according to earlier testimony.
Bevel submitted an addition to his report addressing the salsa issue.
“When I taste it, that’s how I know it’s salsa,” Bevel said making a joke.
Daniel says Bevel has found out it was either salsa or ice cream sandwich wafers on the child’s fingernails.
Bevel says the wafers are brown and can be excluded.
The judge gives the jury a recess at about 3:12 p.m.
1:06 p.m. Wednesday, March 8, 2023: Bloodstain spatter and crime scene reconstruction expert Tom Bevel is on the stand again when the jury comes back in from lunch.
Bevel testifies that his conclusions include:
An attack created a bleeding wound while the child was in a crib.
The bleeding wound creates the beginning of the U-shaped pattern on child’s right cheek and transfers to pillowcase.
The child was placed right cheek down on the floor.
Bevel also doesn’t think the child fell from the crib.
The bloodstain patterns in the crib are consistent with movement and activity with the pillow and the bottom sheet over the mattress, and the bloodstain on the floor has no smearing on the edges, he testifies.
If a child had blood on his cheek, just the act of falling will cause smearing on the edges of the U-shaped bloodstain, he testifies.
Likewise, if the child is picked up other than straight up from the floor, he would also expect some smearing, Bevel testifies.
He later does a demonstration with a doll to show the jury what he means.
The bloodstains inside the crib don’t make nay sense if Wilder crawled out of the crib, fell and died, Bevel testifies. He would also expect to see blood on the railing if there had been a fall.
“There’s a number of individual acts or activities transferring blood from different places in the crib,” he testifies.
The transfer of the U-shaped bloodstain to the floor is much more consistent with someone laying the child’s body down and then later someone picking the body straight up from the floor, Bevel testifies.
He testifies that staging mostly has to do with manipulating physical evidence at the crime scene for an attempt at misdirection.
More:UPDATED Live blog: WEEK ONE James Staley trial coverage
“It is usually to misdirect either the investigation or the investigators,” Bevel tells the jury.
It’s his analysis or opinion that would be consistent with someone laying the child down as if he had fallen out of the crib, he tells the jury.
Bevel also concluded there was a struggle inside the crib before Wilder was laid down on the floor.
“It is consistent with a struggle where something has been held over the mouth of the child,” he testifies.
Defense attorney Mark G. Daniel starts in on his cross examination of Bevel by asking him about his fees: $295 an hour.
“I get less,” Bevel says.
The $295 an hour is what his company gets, Bevel testifies.
The defense attorney’s next gambit is soliciting testimony to point out that Bevel’s company workers are not housed in a common building, and its “international” headquarters is in Edmond, Oklahoma, with a billing address coinciding with an employee’s home.
Bevel and his wife, who is the company secretary, have offices inside their home, he testifies.
He tells the jury he did crime scene evidence collection as a cop.
Daniel says for 11 days the crime scene was left unsecured for all intents and purposes, and anyone might dispose of evidence as they see fit. So collecting it right away would have been the best case scenario
Bevel testifies that if there were flags signaling they should collect evidence and they didn’t, then that they would be correct.
Wichita Falls Police Department investigators returned to Staley’s Country Club area home with a search warrant on Oct. 22, 2018. Wilder was found dead on Oct. 11, 2018.
Daniel tears into Bevel’s May 4, 2021, 21-page report submitted on the Wilder case, taking issue with everything from typos to Bevel’s presentation of the facts to what he did not include.
Daniel asks him about whether Amber carried Wilder to a couch in the home.
Bevel says there was a U-shaped stain on her shoulder and to his knowledge, she never took the kid back to the crib.
Daniel goes on to say that Amber took the child into the kitchen and yelled at Staley to call 911, which he did on his phone. In addition, did Bevel know Staley put the child on the kitchen floor and did CPR?
“I don’t recall CPR being actually done,” Bevel said.
But that would call for checking for expectorant on the kitchen floor, he testifies. In addition, he never mentioned CPR or that Staley dialed 911 in his report.
Daniel tells him his report is not accurate.
“She never took him to the sofa?” Bevel says about Amber and Wilder.
Daniel says, No, Amber ended up going outside, and the AMR ambulance pulled up. Amber came into the living room with Wilder, and AMR staff took him from her and put him on the sofa.
Bevel agrees he needs to have an accurate account of the facts. He does recall Amber saying, “Stop, James,” on the 911 call.
Daniel says that was in reference to Amber not wanting Staley to do CPR on her child.
The defense attorney notes that Bevel has recently submitted an addendum or addition to his report.
Bevel said he wrote in the addendum that Staley was eating salsa that night, and neither it nor blood can be eliminated as being on Wilder’s fingernails because it has never been tested or collected.
Daniel goes to stand beside the witness box for awhile where Bevel is. Daniel is tallish and seems to dwarf the expert beside him. He goes back and forth from one side of the room to another, often returning to the witness box.
Daniel says, Sometimes people make mistakes in life, right?
“All of us are human,” Bevel testifies.
He agrees with Daniel that he is “dead wrong” about a bruise on Wilder’s body because it was on the child’s leg and not his arm.
“I grabbed the wrong picture,” Bevel testifies.
Daniel is hammering at Bevel about whether a colleague read over and checked his report, basically saying all these mistakes he is pointing out indicate the colleague didn’t.
“I did not sit there and watch him,” Bevel testifies. “I take him at his word he did.”
A graphic photo of Wilder, showing the U-shaped bloodstain on his check goes up on the overhead so Daniel can question Bevel about his analysis.
Daniel says the U-shaped bloodstain on the floor shows a full inch across, and a U-shaped stain on the pillow is a half inch, so they don’t look like they match.
But Bevel does not yield that point.
“When you consider the expectorant and the overlay, it is my opinion the better explanation is that it is associated with the U,” Bevel testifies.
Daniel keeps working to punch holes in Bevel’s conclusions about the U-shaped stains and how they got on Wilder’s face and the floor.
He says there appears to be two items extending out from the U on the floor in the picture he puts up on the screen.
Bevel agrees that is what it looks like in that picture.
Daniel also contends there is a blood spot on the floor in another photo although it could be something else.
11:08 a.m. Wednesday, March 8, 2023: The jury comes back in, and Tom Bevel, an expert in blood splatter analysis and crime scene reconstruction takes the stand.
His company is Bevel, Gardner and & Associates, a forensic consulting firm that also offers courses. He is angling toward retirement at his wife’s request, and his company will continue going strong without him actively involved.
Bevel is coauthor of textbooks on bloodstain pattern analysis and crime scene reconstruction.
The FBI appointed him to a working group on bloodstain pattern analysis and has taught in many states and several foreign countries, he testifies.
He has also been consulted in hundreds of cases and has testified in Texas many times on different criminal cases, he tells the jury. In addition, Bevel has been on true crime shows such as “Forensic Files” possibly over 60 times.
He was contacted Nov. 17, 2020, and provided with extensive information about the case, Bevel testifies.
On April 20, 2021, he traveled to Wichita Falls to look at the evidence from the case, Bevel tells the jury. He looked at the bedding but not the crib and could have asked for more information if he needed it.
Bevel confirms he has prepared a slide show to help him explain his conclusions to the jury.
Then he launches into an explanation of what bloodstain pattern analysis is, including slides.
He shows a slide with a drop of blood, and what it looks like when the drop hits a surface.
“Blood does not break up unless something is acting upon it,” Bevels testifies.
It pools and expands with no “satellites” out to the sides, he tells the jury. A drop hitting a surface forms into a sort of crown shape and sends “satellites” of blood out. Blood is also influenced by inertia.
“Blood wants to continue going the same direction it travels,” he testifies.
Later, he says, “Blood points in the direction of travel. To figure out where it came from, you go backwards from that.”
His explanation goes deep, touching on the Newtonian and non-Newtonian. In any case, he tells the jury that the actions of blood are reproducible in experiments, and he has done these experiments hundreds of times in his teaching.
The first question Bevel sought to answer was: Does the physical evidence support the idea that Wilder died from a fall from a crib?
Bevel testifies that the crib was about three feet tall and has a curved railing with a varying height.
“Where the child was reportedly picked up by the mom, we can see out from the edge of the crib a U-shaped bloodstain pattern,” Bevel said.
Amber found Wilder dead the morning of Oct. 11, 2018, and picked him up from the floor, according to earlier testimony.
The bloodstain on the floor is about 1 foot 5 inches to about 1 foot 7 inches away from the curved crib railing, Bevel says. The same U-shaped patterned bloodstain also appeared on Wilder’s cheek. The stains match each other.
He testifies that blood ran from Wilder’s mouth and down his cheek to the U-shaped pattern.
There has been much testimony about abrasions found in Wilder’s mouth. These types of abrasions can result from suffocation.
Bevel shows a slide comparing a bloodstain on the pillow to stains on Wilder’s face.
Bevel testifies that it looks like blood was breathed or coughed out of the child’s mouth. Another possibility is that someone was trying to perform CPR while Wilder was in the crib.
“Now, this would be over the top of the railing,” Bevel tells the jury.
If enough force was used in CPR, it could have made blood come out of the child’s mouth, he testifies.
Special Prosecutor Lisa Tanner asks Bevel to explain what he means by expectorate blood.
“If you sneeze and you’ve got sunlight coming from behind you, you’ll see mist-type saliva, in essence, that is out there,” Bevel testifies. “Expectorate comes from an individual breathing outward as opposed to breathing inward.”
A cough, for instance, could cause expectorate to happen, he testifies.
He tells the jury that CPR can cause the bloodstain pattern he is talking about, but he didn’t find evidence it was performed in or around the pillow.
A bloodstain on the pillow appears to be a palm print in blood that was a transferred bloodstain, Bevel said. If blood was pooling on the pillow, someone could touch that, and the blood would be transferred.
Bevel shows a slide of an enlargement of the suspected palm print in blood.
He testifies that it looks like there was blood in creases in the pillowcase where the palm print is, and it transferred.
Bevel considered if the child transferred a bloody palm print, but there was no blood on his palm or fingers showing that, so it did not come from him, Bevel testified.
Judge Young calls the attorneys to the bench for a quick conference. Then recesses jurors for lunch until 1 p.m.
10 a.m. Wednesday, March 8, 2023: Forensic expert Tom Bevel takes the stand for a hearing about his abilities and credentials as an expert with the jury not present.
The hearing is to determine if Bevel qualifies as an expert.
Special Prosecutor Lisa Tanner is asking him questions about his expertise, noting he is a renowned blood spatter expert.
Tanner asks him if blood stain pattern analysis and crime scene reconstruction is still considered valid forensic science in the courts even though it has been questioned.
Bevel says yes. Training and experience is necessary to conduct that analysis.
He testifies that he has reached conclusions about Wilder’s case, including about whether the crime scene was staged. Bevel believes his analysis shows the child’s body was moved from the crib.
Staley has been charged with evidence tampering and is accused of staging the death scene.
“There’s a tremendous amount of movement from the crib area where the blood is being transferred,” Bevel says.
Defense attorney Mark G. Daniel questions whether a license is required to do what he does.
Bevel says no.
Daniel wants to know if there’s a body regulating experts in crime scene analysis.
Bevels says no, other than the courts.
It’s up to the judge to decide whether Bevel is allowed to testify as an expert for the prosecution in Staley’s trial.
Daniel says there is no regulatory body or organization that can prevent him from testifying.
Bevel says yes, if certain groups issued a letter of censure against him, he wouldn’t be able to testify.
Daniel disagrees. He says what you’re really telling the judge here is you belong to some organizations, and they can criticize you.
“They can criticize or expel,” Bevel said.
Still, Daniel makes his point that there is no organization that can keep Bevel from testifying or licensure from a regulatory body.
Bevel leaves the stand, and Tanner and Daniel present their arguments before or against him being allowed to testify.
The judge gives the attorneys a recess so he can consider what they’ve presented. He leaves the bench apparently to go to the judge’s chambers at about 10:40 a.m.
The judge comes back about 11:02 a.m. and delivers his decision on Bevel.
Young found that Bevel is qualified as an expert in blood spatter analysis and crime scene reconstruction.
But he’s not been shown to be an expert regarding the autopsy and is not an expert in petechiae, so he won’t be allowed to expert in the medical area of petechiae found during the autopsy, the judge says.
The judge also found the subject matter of the expertise is legitimate and relies on science, Young says.
9 a.m. Wednesday, March 8: The eighth day of testimony in James Irven Staley III’s murder trial in connection with the death of 2-year-old Jason Wilder McDaniel on Oct. 11, 2018, begins with another DNA analyst taking the stand.
Courtney Ferreria of the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences, or the Dallas County Crime Lab, testifies about the samples she analyzed from the pillow in Wilder’s crib.
There were 11 samples submitted for DNA testing from the pillow. DNA analyst Angela Thomas handled samples No. 1-4. Ferreria tested samples No. 5-11.
She testifies that samples No. 5, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 9 were positive for two people’s DNA. Wilder was the major contributor, and Staley was a potential minor contributor.
No. 8 and No. 10 had a single source, which was Wilder’s DNA. No. 11 showed DNA from two people but no major contributor. Wilder’s DNA showed up, but Staley and Wilder’s mom, Amber Odom McDaniel were excluded.
Special Prosecutor Lisa Tanner, who is questioning Ferreria, dons gloves and holds up the pillow to point out where the cuttings for samples were taken while the DNA analyst identifies who was included as contributing DNA to the pillow.
Ferreria tells the jury that Amber was fully excluded from all the samples from the pillow. No. 11 did have some DNA that was not identified.
She also testifies the fingernail samples from Wilder. DNA will show up from a person’s body when such samples are taken. That is listed as ISMS — intimate sample, no statistical analysis.
The first and second samples showed only Wilder’s DNA, she testifies. The third sample from the left hand was a mix of two people, including Wilder and Staley’s DNA.
Amber was excluded from the samples, Ferreria testifies.
Defense attorney Mark G. Daniel objects to a summary of the samples and test results that Tanner submits, questioning Ferreria.
She says the summary includes samples that she didn’t analyze.
Tanner tells Senior District Judge Everett Young that summaries are allowed to be submitted into evidence.
Young overrules the objection. Tanner asks a few more questions, and then Daniel starts his cross examination.
Daniel puts a photo on the screen facing the jury of the crib Wilder slept in the night he died. The pillow is in the crib, along with bedding.
He pursues a line of questioning to show that people leave DNA everywhere, including witnesses who sat in the same witness box Ferreria is testifying from.
Ferreria tells the jury that finding Staley’s DNA on stuff in the crib wouldn’t be surprising since it is in his home.
Daniel pursues a line of questioning that solicits answers from Ferreria that the DNA attributed to Staley from a Wilder fingernail sample is not as robust as it would be if a person scratched someone and got DNA from skin cells under his fingernails.
Ferreria also confirms that she cannot tell through her testing when the DNA was deposited.
The judge sends the jury out for a break.
4:21 p.m. Tuesday, March 7: The state calls Angela Thomas, a DNA analyst qualified both in serology and DNA, to the witness stand.
She works at SWIFS or the Dallas Crime Lab. She has college degrees and also went through SWIFS in-house training to qualify to analyze DNA. She doesn’t currently work in serology but does proficiency tests in it once a year to remain qualified.
She has testified on DNA many times. Thomas says that humans share 99 percent of their DNA, and analysts look at the remaining 1 percent. Identical twins have the exact same DNA, but on one else.
DNA profiling is used to solve crimes, an analysts look at samples and compare them to a known DNA profile to see if they match, Thomas testifies. She has excluded suspects in crimes.
Thomas testifies about quality control in the lab. For serology once a year and for DNA twice a year, she has to take tests to show her proficiency.
SWIFS is accredited by the Texas Forensic Science Commission and by ANSI National Accreditation Board or ANAB for short, she testifies.
She does testing of tiny pieces of DNA that is junk DNA, but it is highly variable and so good for testing, Thomas testifies. They are called STRs for Short Tandem Repeats.
Thomas did some of the DNA testing, and another analyst did the rest.
A complete profile is one that she is sure she’s seeing all the information available as opposed to an incomplete profile. Mixed profiles have DNA from more than one person.
She worked from Wilder, Amber and Staley.
Thomas described what touch DNA, also known as “handler DNA,” is.
“Your skin cells have DNA, so when you touch things, your skin cells can slough off,” she testified.
That leaves DNA behind.
She found indications that there was DNA from Wilder on a cutting from a sheet, Thomas tells the jury.
Specifically, Thomas testifies she would expect less than one in 10 trillion people would have Wilder’s DNA profile.
Audrey Basse had done testing that indicated there was blood on that cutting.
Thomas goes on to say that she found Staley’s DNA was also indicated to be on at least one of the samples, along with Wilder’s. Amber was excluded from that sample.
In fact, Amber’s DNA was excluded from all four samples Thomas tested from the pillow.
Tanner asks if a person used a pillow like this to smother someone to death, would Thomas expect them to get their DNA on it?
Thomas says that’s a possibility, and she confirms only Wilder and Staley’s DNA were found on the pillow — not Amber’s.
At about 4:55 p.m., the judge gives the jury a short break while telling them the trial will continue.
The jury is back in by 5:03 p.m., and Tanner questions Thomas some more.
Tanner approaches Thomas and asks her if paperwork she gives her is a summary of some of the relevant DNA results.
Thomas confirms it is an accurate summation.
Tanner holds up the pillow and asks Thomas about results from testing of various sites.
The T3 site show Wilder and Staley both included, and Amber excluded, for instance, Thomas testifies.
Defense attorney Mark G. Daniel begins his cross examination, saying DNA testing has no timeline.
“We can’t say when it was deposited,” Thomas testifies.
She tells the jury she has no knowledge of how WFPD packaged the items sent to the Dallas Crime Lab for testing.
Daniel puts diagrams showing testing of the pillow from Wilder’s crib on a screen facing the jury.
Thomas confirms that DNA can get under a person’s fingernails from touch DNA.
Daniel asks her if a person set up a crib and handled the sheets, couldn’t touch DNA come from that?
Thomas says there are many ways DNA can come to show up.
The judge dismisses Thomas and recesses the jury at 5:20 p.m. and tells them to come back at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
3:15 p.m. Tuesday, March 7, 2023: A serologist takes the stand.
Special Prosecutor Lisa Tanner questions her.
Audrey Basse of SWIFS or the Dallas County Crime Lab is not a DNA analyst, but she performs presumptive tests as a screening tool for the presence of blood.
They are chemical color change tests, Basse testifies. The lab received buccal swabs from Staley and Amber Odom McDaniel. The swabs have samples of DNA from the inside of a person’s mouth.
Basse testifies she tested for blood on a white T-shirt and found the presence of blood. She tested a sample from the floor of the master closet.
Wearing gloves, Tanner is presenting various items from evidence to Basse for her testimony, asking her if she received them. Extensive packaging rustles as Tanner retrieves items from it.
That includes a fitted sheet that Basse confirms her lab received for testing.
She tested the sheet and confirmed the presence of blood, Basse tells the jury. The sample went to DNA analysis. It was the cuttings from the pillow Basse sent for DNA testing and not the pillow itself.
Basse testifies she also received fingernail clippings from Wilder’s autopsy. She tested them for the presence of blood and swabbed them for skin cells.
The left hand fingernails tested presumptively positive for blood. She did not see any staining for the right hand, so she swabbed the entire area for skin cells. The samples went into storage for DNA testing.
Basse testifies a pillow produced in court was one that she subjected to tests. She confirms there were a bunch of stains on that pillow.
Diagrams of the pillow showing Basse’s work on it are displayed on a screen for the jury.
She testifies that she tested all the stains appearing to be blood. A dark colored stain tested positive for blood. The rest of the pillow was tested for the presence of blood.
She also tested for “touch DNA,” Basse testifies. That is to see if someone handled or touched it.
Another part of the pillow tested positive for the presence of blood, and she also swabbed for touch DNA, Basse testifies.
As Tanner painstakingly goes over apparently every stitch of the pillow, Basse explains where she tested for blood and swabbed for DNA.
Basse testifies there appears to be a visible blood stain in one part of the pillow. She tells the jury the different tests she does to confirm the presence of bodily fluids such as blood and seminal fluid.
Basse confirms that SWIFS doesn’t do amylase testing, which tests for saliva. She doesn’t know whether the Texas Department of Public Safety forensic lab do those tests, either.
“Last week, a detective got excoriated here in this courtroom for not having you do amylase testing, and you don’t do it,” Tanner says.
Basse confirms they don’t.
Defense attorney Mark G. Daniel starts cross examining her just before 4 p.m.
Daniel launches into an explanation of primary, secondary and tertiary transfer, getting Basse to confirm his definitions.
He asks Basse if she has any knowledge of four items being packaged together in one bag when collected as evidence.
“We receive items packaged together frequently,” Basse testifies. “We test them the exact same way.”
It’s noted if they’re tested together, she says. Transfer of material among items is possible.
She testifies that all of her notes reflect how she received the item. She confirms she doesn’t know where an item has been or if it’s been handled properly before she receives it.
Basse tells the jury she uses different gloves to prevent contamination between samples.
Daniel asks her what the pillow was packaged with.
Basse says it was by itself in a brown paper bag. She confirms that WFPD Detective Chad Nelson requested amylase testing from the SWIFS lab.
Basse tells the jury the lab workers always have a conversation with the investigators to discuss what kind of testing they want.
She saw requests for DNA testing and amylase testing from Nelson, and there was a conversation about what testing the lab does and what services they would provide, Basse testified.
Daniel passes the witness at 4:16 p.m. Tanner has a few more questions for Basse.
She asks Basse if a detective should not be fussed at about amylase testing if her lab doesn’t test for it.
Basse says that her lab doesn’t do the testing.
2:16 p.m., Tuesday, March 7: Defense attorney Mark G. Daniel is trotting out information from respected sources that seems to conflict with Hastings’ opinions and findings.
Editor’s note: Content warning – The following update contains details about a child’s death that may be disturbing to some readers.
Daniel also produces a caveat from such a source that a medical examiner should never make a cause of death determination based on prosecution.
Hastings testifies that he agrees.
Daniels starts writing on a big white tablet facing the jury, and Special Prosecutor Lisa Tanner objects to that and says counsel should stop writing on the board until the judge rules.
Senior District Judge Everette Young calls the defense and prosecution to the bench for a whispered conference.
After their short consultation, Daniel returns to the big tablet and starts asking a question as he rips off the page he’s written on. A blank sheet is left behind.
Hastings rejects what Daniel said is “the actual formal definition” of what he is required to use to issue an undetermined manner of death.
Hastings testifies that it is one line from an article of several pages, and information elsewhere in the article contradicts it.
More:Autopsy findings: 2-year-old Wilder McDaniel may have been smothered with pillow
“If you read the entire article, it would be very clear what they mean,” the medical examiner tells the jury.
He indicates Daniel is knit picking, and the atmosphere is a little tense. His testimony moves on.
Daniel passes the witness at about 2:31 p.m., and Tanner takes another turn at questioning Hastings.
He testifies that there is a meeting at 2 p.m. to discuss cases among the medical examiners at SWIFS.
Hastings testifies that prior relationship evidence regarding the victim may or may not be relevant to him. He says it is common for medical examiners to meet with experts in child abuse, and there is almost always a multi-disciplinary meeting about a child death in Dallas County.
And no, he doesn’t recall what Dr. Suzanne Dakil said during the meeting on Wilder’s case some years ago.
He says he has met with Dakil on other cases since she specializes in child abuse.
It is incorrect to say there must be torn frenulum in a suffocation case, Hastings testifies. He confirms there was a lot of petechiae in a lot of places on Wilder.
Tanner says when a smothering is confirmed, will you have any findings to go with that?
Hastings said not usually, and he confirms he testified earlier that smothering is a way to kill someone that won’t leave a trail of evidence.
As for using a pillow, it is very soft so generally is not going to leave many marks, Hastings testifies.
He reads from his final autopsy report dated Jan. 24, 2019: “The scene information is irregular and highly suspicious of a homicidal death.”
Hastings also reads: “If additional information becomes available, the cause or manner of death may be amended.”
He confirms that some of the injuries Wilder sustained might have been caused by a struggle, and that a 2 and a half year old is able to resist at some level.
He also confirms he believes Wilder’s death was a homicide and that his report renders a medical opinion not a law enforcement opinion.
Defense attorney Mark G. Daniel takes a crack at Hastings again, and they get into an arcane discussion about editions of a medical book, and Hastings says he probably has 100 books.
“Your opinion rendered four years and 40 days ago is still one and the same?” Daniel asks. “Nobody shared a thing with you in those four years and 40 days that caused you to change your opinion.”
Hastings says yes to both questions.
Tanner has a question: How long would it take to smother a 2 and a half year old to death.
Hastings said it would vary and be a dynamic event, but it would take over a minute. A person would struggle and might get a gasp of air.
Besides petechiae to indicate possible homicide, there were also abrasions on the lips, a hemorrhage in the neck and other indications.
Also there has never been an explanation provided to Hastings for the bloody pillow and child being on the floor, he tells the jury.
Hastings testifies there is no evidence of a natural reason Wilder died.
The medical examiner is dismissed from the stand about 3 p.m., and the judge gives the jury a break.
1:08 p.m. Tuesday, March 7: Cross examination of Dr. Stephen Hastings, medical examiner, begins after lunch.
Defense attorney Mark G. Daniel is cross examining Hastings, who performed the autopsy on 2-year-old Jason Wilder McDaniel’s body.
Editor’s note: Content warning – The following update contains details about a child’s death that may be disturbing to some readers.
Hastings confirms that the medical examiners who signed off on the final autopsy report were unanimous about the finding of undetermined manner of death for the little boy.
He testifies that the undetermined finding has stood for about four years.
Wichita County District Attorney John Gillespie has taken him up on the offer about looking at other information that could change Hasting’s finding, he testifies.
The medical examiner testifies that he did look at a 50-page expert’s report from Everett Baxter provided by Gillespie, and it didn’t change the undetermined finding. He was also provided with a transcript of an interview with Amber McDaniel, Wilder’s mom.
Hastings confirms every step of an autopsy procedure is documented, and that he had a meeting with a Dr. Susan Dakil on Teams with others also in attendance. He doesn’t recall if she said anything during the meeting.
Hastings testifies that Gillespie set up the meeting.
“I’m always open to considering any additional information that may become available,” Hastings testifies about Wilder’s case and any other case.
Daniel starts talking about the frenulum, a membrane inside the mouth. There are two, one for the upper and lower part of the mouth. It can be damaged during smothering.
Hastings testifies that he examined Wilder’s frenulum and found no damage. Besides working at SWIFS, Hastings teaches at UT Southwestern Medical School.
Daniel puts up photos of the buildings where Hastings works with its labs and pathology area.
Hastings confirms that for every one of his autopsies, he issues a report and an opinion on.
He is not comfortable with Daniel using “sponsoring” as in an agency sponsoring his opinion.
Hastings testifies he has never talked to a Tom Bevel about the case.
Bevel is an expert listed by both the defense and prosecution.
Hastings confirms there is a cause of death and a manner or method of death. He testifies that a final autopsy report is detailed, accurate and signed off on by the chief medical examiner.
Hastings could not categorize Wilder’s death as natural, accidental, homicide or suicide, he testifies. So he classified it as undetermined even though he is of the opinion it is could be a homicide.
He tells the jury he didn’t find bruises on Wilder’s extremities had contributed to his death. In addition, he found the cause of death was suggestive of asphyxiation, citing the petechiae.
“Petechiae are not unique to asphyxia and can occur in other conditions,” Daniel says, reading from the book.
Hastings confirms that performing CPR on someone could cause petechiae, as well as vomiting. He testifies that he is familiar with a pathologist’s book that is considered a learned treatise.
Petechiae on the surface of the eyes and inside eyelids are consistent with asphyxia, according to the book.
But Hastings didn’t find petechiae on the eyes although he found some inside eyelids.
Hastings testifies about the issues with using rigor mortis in a body to estimate the time of death.
“Rigor mortis can actually happen immediately after death if there is a struggle,” Hastings said. “It can be immediately after to hours to days.”
But he agrees decomposition can contribute to petechiae being present.
Wilder was found on his right side, and his body had stiffened in death, according to previous testimony in the trial.
Daniel goes over the superficial wounds discovered in the child’s mouth with Hastings.
The medical examiner said they were superficial in that they did not go very deep.
Daniel gives the photos to the jury so they can look at the injuries described.
Hastings testifies that he found no external injuries to the child’s neck. He also found no internal injury to the actual muscle itself although he found internal hemorrhages in the neck.
Daniel goes to great lengths to point out how small the injuries are as in they are much smaller than the thumb of the gloved hand shown in an autopsy picture.
Then Daniel, saying he’s not going to choke Hastings, demonstrates on the medical examiner’s neck where fingers might go if someone was being choked or strangled.
Hastings testifies that abrasions and bruises aren’t usually present in smothering, making them difficult to diagnose.
He acknowledges that there are differing opinions. He testifies that he has heard the pathology expert lecture, the man who has written a book Daniel has read from.
Daniel brings back the book by the pathology expert and starts to read from it.
Special Prosecutor Lisa Tanner objects to Daniel just reading from a book. The judge says he will allow it this time.
The books says suffocation-related injuries are often in the face in certain areas.
Hastings testifies that he didn’t see injuries like that on Wilder.
10:20 a.m. Tuesday, March 7: Dr. Stephen Hastings, a key medical examiner in the case, takes the stand.
Special Prosecutor Lisa Tanner questions him.
Editor’s note: Content warning – The following update contains details about a child’s death that may be disturbing to some readers.
He works at the Southwest Institute for Forensic Sciences in Dallas where the autopsy of Wilder was conducted. He gives a quick description of how an autopsy is conducted.
Manner of death is different from cause of death, he testifies. Manner of death can be, for instance, homicide, natural, suicide or accidental.
He has to be 51% sure of a natural death, but he has to have the highest degree of certainty to call a death a homicide, Hastings testifies.
He agrees that it’s ultimately up to a jury to determine the manner of death, and that a jury can look at far more information to decide than he can as a medical examiner.
A fifth manner of death is undetermined, Hastings testifies. Wilder had some bruises, a few with slightly different colors.
More:UPDATED Live blog: WEEK ONE James Staley trial coverage
He performed the autopsy on Wilder’s body on Oct. 18, 2018, he testifies. The child was dressed in a diaper, weighed 34 pounds and was 38 inches long.
He tells the jury sometimes it’s obvious how the person has died, such as when he has suffered multiple gunshot wounds.
The petechiae on Wilder were something he noticed, Hastings testifies. He found an apparent source for the blood in Wilder’s mouth. It was from abrasions on the inner part of the his mouth, as well as one external one.
They would be consistent with some sort of pressure on the mouth that pushed the lips against the teeth, Hastings tells the jury. They could also be caused by the mouth falling on something.
The injuries on his mouth were the only bleeding injuries on the child, Hastings testifies.
Petechiae are ruptured blood vessels, Hastings says. They may appear in deaths caused by strangling or smothering.
His petechiae were very prominent in a large distribution, Hastings testifies.
“It’s certainly very suspicious of an asphyxial death,” he tells the jury.
They were on his face, around the left eye and in front and behind the left ear and the left side of his neck, Hastings testifies. In addition, there were some contusions or bruises on the child’s head.
The jury is listening attentively, the faces of the 12 jurors and 14 alternates turned toward Hastings.
Since Wilder was found below the crib, Hastings examined him for the possibility of fall injuries or a fall-related death, he testifies.
He is explaining what sort of injuries a child would suffer in a deadly fall and testifies that Wilder did not have any of those injuries, such as skull fractures or brain swelling or bleeding.
The child did not have old breaks or new breaks in his bones, Hastings testifies. Injuries to the wrists are not uncommon in falls, but he didn’t see any such injuries.
Hastings testifies he also looked for evidence that Wilder could have died from a disease or some sort of heart defect. He did not find that.
In addition, blood, hair and fingernail samples were taken, he testifies.
Hastings testifies he decided Wilder’s manner of death could not be determined. But he wrote in his report that it was very suspicious that another individual had placed a pillow over the child’s face and smothered him.
Under cause of death, he put suggestive of an asphyxial death, Hastings testifies.
An undetermined manner of death is not uncommon, he tells the jury.
“We are open to any additional information,” he testifies.
He can change the manner of death in light of new information, Hastings said.
There would need to be some clear and convincing evidence of a smothering homicide to change his ruling, such as a confession and possibly an eyewitness, but he would have to evaluate all of that on a case by case basis, Hastings testifies.
He tells the jury that smothering doesn’t leave clear evidence typically.
James Irven Staley III, 40, is suspected of smothering 2-year-old Jason Wilder McDaniel with a pillow at Staley’s Country Club area home. He is on trial for a murder charge in Fort Worth since Senior District Judge Everett Young decided the trial should move from Wichita County. Staley maintains his innocence.
Hastings testifies has seen some of the photos from the scene of Wilder’s death.
Hastings examines photos and confirms they are photos from Wilder’s autopsy. There is a pause as Staley’s defense attorneys look through the photos. They have no objections to the exhibit.
One woman in the gallery shields her eyes and looks away from the photos. The jury is calmly watching as Hastings points out harmless things that do not indicate foul play and don’t concern the cause or manner of death.
Hastings moves on to point out things he has already testified about that are relevant to the findings in the autopsy report such as petechiae that dot the child’s body.
Hastings testifies that the hyoid bone is looked at if strangulation, for instance, is suspected. It’s more common for this bone to break in adults than in children in such cases.
It is a small, horseshoe-shaped bone in the neck.
Wilder’s hyoid bone was intact, Hastings testifies. He goes on to discuss signs of hemorrhaging in the child’s body.
The autopsy photos are graphic and keep coming relentlessly as Hastings matter-of-factly testifies about them. Besides the medical examiner, Staley has the closet view of them since he sits nearest the screen.
Back on the witness stand with the photos now gone from view, Hastings confirms he couldn’t think of any other explanation besides a homicidal suffocation for Wilder’s death.
Even though he has ruled the manner of death to be undetermined, he has concluded in the autopsy that looking at scene information, Wilder’s death is highly suspicious of a homicidal death. He has also testified to this before a grand jury.
In his response to Tanner’s final question, Hastings testifies that he has found nothing to indicate that Wilder died from falling from a crib.
The judge gives the jury a lunch break close to noon through 1 p.m. It is expected that the defense will cross examine Hastings after lunch.
Final Autopsy Report by Denise Nelson on Scribd
10:06 a.m. Tuesday, March 6: Staley’s younger sister, Martha Bea Staley, takes the stand to testify against her brother and almost immediately begins to cry.
Wichita County District Attorney District Attorney John Gillespie says he is sorry she has to be there and asks her if she was subpoenaed to appear.
She says yes. She starts to read electronic messages from Staley to her and their dad, and she begins to cry.
“I don’t know what would be worse, holding my breath and waiting to hear from either of you and dying from lack of oxygen or actually hearing from you,” he messages them.
“Goodbye, James,” his sister messages.
”Is that something new? Good luck out there. You’re response was actually worse than asphyxiating,” Staley messages.
Moore cross examines her, saying she and her brother have been estranged for years.
“I do not view my brother as estranged, and I love him very much,” she says.
Moore asks her if she is writing a book about her “messed-up childhood.”
She says she hopes to.
“So this would be a good scene to put in the book, yes?” Moore says.
She says perhaps and testifies that she didn’t meet Amber until Monday. She agrees that she has nothing to tell the jury about what happened at Staley’s Wichita Falls home.
“I never have proclaimed that I have,” she testifies.
Gillespie takes a turn.
She testifies that her brother is manipulative and that the texts she and her dad received from Staley speak for themselves.
The judge excuses her from the stand.
9:40 a.m. Tuesday, March 6: Special Prosecutor Lisa Tanner takes up the messages Staley sent her after Wilder’s death.
Amber testifies that Staley never used Wilder’s name, said he missed him or offered her condolences in those messages.
Moore says, On Oct. 9 and Oct. 10, Moore says there was no discussion of, “No James,” in those messages.
Amber says she no.
Moore says there was a part of one of her interviews with police in which she says there were no issues, and Staley had been up for two days, but things were fine.
Amber confirms that.
Tanner takes another turn.
On Oct. 12, Amber told Chad, “He was scared and didn’t want to be with James.”
And Wilder would say, “No, James,” Amber said, reading from a transcript.
Moore takes another quick turn, and then she’s done.
Amber steps down from the witness stand at 9:49 a.m., finally dismissed by the judge after a grueling perhaps nearly 10 hours of testimony.
From the witness box, she has relived the morning she found her son dead at least twice, including being asked to demonstrate physically what was happening by a defense attorney.
More:UPDATED: Wilder’s mother charged with child endangerment, evidence tampering
Amber has been confronted with alleged inconsistencies in her statements. The prosecution sought to counteract any of that by emphasizing the shock and cloudy mind Amber had to operate under following her son’s death.
In addition, a defense attorney has questioned her motives for testifying against Staley, and Amber has been reminded multiple times that she is charged with felony child endangerment and evidence tampering.
She has had to watch videos of her little boy that brought tears to her eyes — all the while facing the ex-boyfriend she believes killed her precious child.
8:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 6: When the jury comes in, Amber McDaniel, Jason Wilder McDaniel’s mom, is already on the witness stand to testify against her ex-boyfriend, James Irven Staley III in his murder trial in connection with her son.
Defense attorney Terri Moore continues her cross examination, warning Amber that she is going to show a series of videos of Wilder, and it might be emotional for her.
The first video shows Wilder and James Irven Staley III lighting a grill together in 2018 and several short videos follow.
Moore tells Amber it was made the day of the cookout with her family on Oct. 6, 2018.
Amber disagrees that it was made then and testifies that it was sent to her on Oct. 10.
Amber tears up during one of the videos, but fights off the tears.
In one video, Wilder is talking excitedly while Staley holds him.
Moore wants to know if Wilder looks uncomfortable.
“I don’t know if he was comfortable but he was in his arms,” Amber tells the jury.
Moore presses her, and Amber says that no, Wilder doesn’t look uncomfortable.
In another short video, Wilder and Staley’s then 4-year-old daughter are in bed watching TV when Staley comes in.
Moore asks if it looks like Wilder is trying to get away.
“He’s continuing to watch TV,” Amber testifies.
After the videos, Moore questions Amber about electronic messages. The defense attorney is at the witness stand beside Amber, showing her the messages. Moore reads the messages and asks Amber questions as she does it.
In the messages, Amber and Staley talk about loving each other and their future together.
“Babe, I wouldn’t do life with anyone else ever,” Staley says in a message on Oct. 10, 2018.
Moore emphasizes that the messages are in the time frame of Oct. 10, 2018.
Amber testifies that she quit her job at the bar and was able to go to school full time at Vernon College, as well as take care of her child.
Amber confirms that Staley gave her an American Express card, and she could put her expenses on that.
On Monday, Amber testified from about 9 a.m. until about 5:18 p.m. with about an hour break for lunch.
Amber testifies that she does not recall doing an internet search for the woman Moore calls Staley’s ex-wife, Tara Campisi or for Staley’s business partner during the night before she found Wilder deceased.
Moore asks Amber if she ever told Detective Chad Nelson about her argument with Staley when he mocked Wilder saying, “No, James,” and she told Staley to shut the (expletive) up in the bathroom the night before the child’s death.
Amber says she doesn’t believe she told Nelson.
Moore criticizes her for not telling Nelson about the argument.
“My child had just died. I was more concerned about that,” Amber testifies.
She tells the jury she is still trying to wrap her head around what happened.
Moore’s cross examination ends about 9:07 p.m.
Special Prosecutor Lisa Tanner takes a turn at questioning Amber.
She testifies that reading the transcripts Tanner gave her was hard, and that she and Tanner have never engaged in a question and answer session as they have in court.
Amber testifies that no one has ever engaged in that kind of question and answer session.
She confirms that when she was interviewed Oct. 11, it was just a couple of hours after she found Wilder. She testifies that she tried to think clearly, but she was not.
On Oct. 12 when she initiated an interview with Nelson, she was still not thinking clearly and was still in shock, Amber testifies.
Tanner gives Amber the transcript from her Jan. 25, 2019, interview for police to read part of it.
Amber confirms that Nelson told her he wanted to ask her some stuff because she would be thinking more clearly at that time.
Amber testifies that Nelson gave her a notebook to jot things down in. She tells the jury her mind was more clear three months after her son died.
She reads from the transcript from the Oct. 11 police interview that she doesn’t know what time she went to bed. She didn’t have her phone.
“Is there any reason there would be blood on his pillow and in his crib?” Nelson asked her.
Amber testifies that Nelson asked her that question, and he didn’t plant a seed in her mind about foul play as the defense attorney has characterized it.
Amber testifies that she reached out to Nelson on Oct. 12 because she had thought of some things and needed to talk to him.
“I think James hurt my baby,” Amber told Nelson in the Oct. 12 interview.
She also told him Staley called Wilder a gay slur and an off-color name.
Amber testifies that it was normal for Staley to say Wilder was whiny and tell him to shut the (expletive) up.
Tanner and Moore butt heads over whether Tanner is asking leading questions. Tanner rephrases her question to “normal” or “abnormal,” raising her voice to speak over Moore as she objects.
Moore tells her that she’s not supposed to talk over someone objecting.
The judge tells Tanner to rephrase her question.
“Thank you, your honor,” Tanner says, continuing her questioning.
Later, Tanner says that the jury has heard all about the night of Sept. 1 in relation to Staley saying Wilder has fallen off the bed, which was less chaotic as was a night in August.
Amber tells the jury that Wilder said, “No Summer,” in the beginning of meeting her then best friend. But then after about two weeks of going to Summer’s house, it went away.
In contrast, Wilder said, “No James,” later in their relationship.
Amber testifies that there were several people at Staley’s house the night of the cookout, but she does not hear other people in the background of the video.
Staley would send her the same video multiple times, and a video can be taken and sent anytime after that.
Amber testifies that Wilder was in control of his own body, and Amber tears up and says she knew Wilder better than anyone.
Tanner says the jury has heard a lot of “lovey dovey” messages between her and Staley.
“If there were only the bad texts, would you have stuck around?” Tanner asks.
“No, I would not,” Amber says.
She agrees with Tanner that the romantic messages were needed to blunt the others.
Amber testifies that Staley joked about hitting, punching and putting Wilder in the trash.
“If in fact, the jury knows irrefutably that he hit your child in the face, those stop being jokes. Don’t they?” Tanner says.
Amber says yes and starts to cry and pats her face with a tissue.
She testifies that doesn’t show a “funky sense of humor,” as Tanner puts it.
During messages on Oct. 10, 2018, Staley says, If he cries, I’m going to have to stop ignoring him and beat him.
Amber confirms that was their last their last text exchange then.
4:30 p.m. Monday, March 6: With the jury out, the judge is hearing from defense attorney Mark G. Daniel.
He is talking about the McDaniel’s lawsuit against Staley in which they are suing him for $1 million in connection with Wilder’s death. He is pushing for the lawsuit to be admitted into evidence and/or questions to be allowed about it.
Their lawsuit filed in Dallas County alleges that Staley “through his wrongful actions and negligent conduct caused his (Wilder’s) death and took Amber’s and Bubba’s pride and joy away from them forever.”
Staley has denied the allegations in the lawsuit.
Special Prosecutor Lisa Tanner says it is not relevant.
The judge says he will continue to sustain the prosecution’s objection, and any relevant information, such as about the dollar amount the couple is suing Staley for, was already brought up in court.
The jury returns, and Moore continues cross examining Amber and going through text messages. The defense attorney goes through message after message to solicit Amber’s agreement that they are either harmless or positive.
“So two days before he’s alleged to have killed Wilder, he’s telling you he loves him” regardless, Moore asks Amber.
Amber is coming up on about six hours or so of testimony from the witness stand in a courtroom in downtown Fort Worth.
She messages Staley that while they were backing out, Wilder said, “Bye. Love you, James. Love you, James.”
Amber says she doesn’t think she made a video of that.
“I’ll show you one in a minute,” defense attorney Terri Moore says.
The defense attorney says Amber was making a video of Wilder saying that when her phone died. Moore contends this contradicts what Amber has said before about how Wilder felt about Staley.
On Oct. 9, 2018, at 10:44 p.m., Amber messages Staley that her parents just came home, asked her why she was there and if they were fighting. “LOL.”
Moore says, basically, Amber is ribbing Staley, telling him she’s told her parents that Staley kicked her out.
Staley messages, don’t tell them that, and that he is working on his taxes, and she didn’t want to stay.
Amber messages Staley that she is kidding. She didn’t tell her parents that. She doesn’t ever want to leave, but the house gets lonely without him.
On Oct. 10, 2018, she sends a photo to Staley of Wilder’s day at school when the fire truck came.
Amber agrees with Moore that the messages are showing two people in a relationship talking about daily life.
The jury seems fatigued as the avalanche of messages continues. A juror yawns. One or two jurors are flipping through their binders of messages between Staley and Amber. Another juror is tapping his cheek with one finger. The clock ticks past 5 p.m.
Amber says a message about a 12-pack refers to paper towels not beer.
Moore remarks more than once that there is no fussing and fighting going on in these messages. They just show, “every day life between two people just living life together,” the defense attorney says.
Moore later adds, “It’s pretty boring, but this is just life” as the messaging about paper towels continue.
Amber testifies that she lived with her parents and kept a few things at Staley’s house in a closet. She would go home to get her and Wilder’s stuff.
Moore says there were several videos sent in the messages, including the pooping video. Moore tells the judge she has more to go over and asks the judge what he want to do. It is about 5:18 p.m.
The judge calls the lawyers up to the bench, and they have a conference in low voices.
The judge recesses the trial but tells the jury to be back at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday because they are not near done.
3:18 p.m. Monday, March 6: Amber testifies that her story to police changed from October 2018 to when she gave a later interview with police.
Amber at first didn’t suspect foul play, but she did after a detective planted a seed for that.
Defense attorney Terri Moore questions Amber about the civil lawsuit against Staley. Moore is in the middle of a question about how a person can’t be sued for intentionally causing a death.
But Special Prosecutor Lisa Tanner objects, saying that Amber is not a lawyer.
The judge sustains the objection. In addition, the judge sustains an objection to the lawsuit as a defense exhibit. He allows it to be entered only for the purposes of being put in the record.
Amber testifies that she wasn’t hiding texts between her and Staley from Bubba.
“You were scared of Bubba weren’t you?” Moore says.
No, Amber testifies. She confirms that she was putting down Bubba in texts to Staley.
Amber tells the jury she doesn’t know yet what she will do in relation to the felony charges against her.
Moore asks her whether “owning” her misdeeds means going back and pleading guilty in Wichita Falls, pointing out that the DA is sitting right in front of her.
Amber again says she doesn’t know what she will do. She takes full responsibility for her actions in relation to her son’s death, she tells the jury.
Next, Moore delves into messages between Staley and Amber in which Staley refers to Bubba and Wilder as “scumbags” and an off-color insult. Amber messaged Staley that Bubba would beat the (expletive) out of him if he knew what he was saying.
Staley messaged he has a lot of guns, apparently to show he was not afraid of Bubba.
Amber tells the jury she knew Bubba wouldn’t appreciate what Staley was saying. She confirms she went back to Staley the next day after the above fight with Staley and that she wasn’t afraid Staley would hurt Wilder.
Moore asks Amber why she wasn’t home one day around 5:30 a.m. when Staley is texting her that Wilder slept on him and was “actually sweet. LOL.”
Amber testifies that she doesn’t recall.
During the cross examination, Amber has maintained her composure while the defense attorney has put her through the ringer.
Moore is dissecting some of the messages between Amber and Staley.
“I love you for wanting to take Wilder even though you know he’s a hell child,” Amber messages Staley.
She testifies that Wilder was in the terrible twos and threw tantrums.
Staley messages that it would be good for Wilder to get out and do stuff without her once in a blue moon.
Amber testifies that yes, Staley was giving her some advice.
Staley messages her at one point that he is trying to secure all of their futures.
Amber testifies that she and Staley talked about marriage and having children together. She was probably working when Staley texted her that he had bathed both of the children. He babysat Wilder more than once or twice.
Staley messages Amber that, “Wilder is a little angel,” but also sends devil marks.
Amber confirms that is Staley’s sense of humor, and she confirms that some of the messages show tenderness.
Moore says Staley texted Amber that when he put Wilder down, he said, “Daddy. Daddy,” and wanted Staley to hold him again.
There are references to a tinderbox, which holds firewood.
Amber testifies that Staley joked about putting Wilder into the tinderbox.
Moore says, here’s a good example of Staley’s sense of humor. He joked about dropping Wilder off at an adoption agency.
Amber agrees that is just Staley joking.
Moore picks apart messages apparently with the goal to cast Staley in a good light and drive home her contention that he has what she calls a “funky” sense of humor.
She talks about, “James being James,” referring to James Staley Irven III, who is on trial for murder in connection with Wilder’s death.
The courtroom seems restless, possibly because most of these messages appear to be among those already heard last week. However, the jury seems to still be focusing on the overhead projection of the text messages.
On Aug. 22, 2018, she messages Staley that she is going to Weatherford.
They are supposed to go to a wedding.
He messages her that she loves him, hopes she finds a good dress and that a cow eats Wilder. Staley messages not to think Wilder is a burden.
On Oct. 9, 2018, Amber messages Staley, asking if he has gone to the office. He says, yes.
“Are you spying on me?” he messages. Amber messages back no.
Staley messages that she is amazing.
Amber sent him a Snapchat video Oct. 9 of Wilder pooping. She asks Wilder if he is pooping, and Wilder said, no, Mamma, I’m not.
Amber dabs at her eyes with a tissue.
“That could be on ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos,'” he messages in response to the video.
2:10 p.m. Monday, March 6: Defense attorney Terri Moore begins cross examining Amber.
Moore asks her if she wasn’t accepted to the WFPD police academy because she told too many lies.
Amber says yes.
She testified earlier while Tanner was questioning her that she had lied on an application about her drug use before. She applied to the police academy but was fired as a dispatcher when her police academy application described different drug use from her dispatcher’s application.
Amber testifies that she met with Wichita County District Attorney John Gillespie two or three times before she was arrested for the felony charges, which was possibly 2022.
Amber was arrested and never spoke to Gillespie again, she testifies. Special Prosecutor Lisa Tanner dropped off transcripts of her police interviews at Amber’s workplace before the trial started, and she has read through them once.
Amber met with Tanner at her hotel the Sunday before trial started, Amber testifies.
“She showed me texts that I had sent,” Amber tells the jury.
They spent about an hour looking at them.
Amber testifies that she doesn’t know if she told ambulance workers that she didn’t know if Wilder had fallen out of the crib.
At WFPD on Oct. 11, 2018, she met with police. She told them she thought Wilder had fallen out of the crib.
Moore asks Amber if Detective Chad Nelson didn’t plant the seed of foul play.
Amber said yes, he did.
Moore plays a clip from Amber’s interview with police on Oct. 12. On the videotaped interview, Amber says she and Staley had not been fighting. He had been up for two days. But things were normal, and they were talking about taking the kids on vacation.
Amber agrees that she is there to help the police, and yet she told them there was no fighting, and everything was normal between her and Staley.
Moore questions her about the events of the morning after Amber found Wilder dead on the floor of a bedroom next to the crib, seeking contradictions between her testimony Monday and what she told police.
It appears this will be a long cross examination of Amber. The jury is watching everything attentively.
Moore brings out a map of the layout of Staley’s home and brings it up to the witness stand to show Amber.
Amber testifies she was in the bedroom where Wilder was and ran looking for help. She saw Staley jump up over on the sofa after she goes into the kitchen.
“I fell to my knees holding Wilder,” Amber testifies.
She tells Staley to get a phone, she testifies. The first time he came back to her, he didn’t have a phone. She yells at him to get a phone. Staley comes back, likely is the one who dials 911, and throws the phone on the ground.
Moore says, Staley started giving Wilder CPR on the floor.
Amber says Staley did perhaps one compression or so. She has testified earlier Monday that she rubbed Wilder’s chest.
Amber tells the jury she was doing a sternum rub. She testifies that she was holding Wilder with one arm on her left shoulder and is reaching down onto the floor for the phone.
Then Staley took Wilder and put the child onto the floor and starts doing compressions.
The defense attorney is having Amber demonstrate while she fires questions at her about what happened, and Amber gives confirmations.
Moore moves on to address Staley’s movements overnight, asking Amber about her knowledge that Staley was working on his taxes Oct. 10 and Oct. 11.
Last week, an expert in cell tower data testified that information he gathered indicated Staley was gone from the home for as much as an hour in the early morning hours of Oct. 11.
Amber testifies that to this day, she does not recall being on her cell phone overnight looking up Tara Campisi, the mother of Staley’s daughter, and his business partner.
She confirms that police took her phone Oct. 11 and gave it back to her the same day. They also took it on Oct. 22.
Amber testifies that she was told the police found her phone in her bed.
Moore says that Amber told police that when she came in from swimming, she was done for the night and put on one of Staley’s T-shirts and went to bed.
The defense attorney launches into a full-on attack, citing what she contends are inconsistencies in Amber’s story to police and/or her testimony.
Moore says, you said you gave him the cold shoulder because you were hoping he would follow you and apologize.
“This is a completely different picture — ,” Moore says before being interrupted with an objection sustained by the judge.
Senior District Judge Everett Young gives the jury a break at about 3:04 p.m.
2:04 p.m. Monday, March 6: Amber testifies about filing a civil lawsuit against Staley over Wilder’s death with Bubba, Wilder’s father.
She tells the jury she does not want to profit from her son’s death, but that lawyers said they could get certain information on the death through a lawsuit.
Amber testifies that Bubba has stood by her even after she was charged with child endangerment and evidence tampering. They have been married going on four years and had another son, Phoenix in March 2022.
While he can “never” replace Wilder, Phoenix “has kept her alive,” Amber tells the jury.
“After I was arrested for child endangerment, I was at my lowest point and did not want to go on,” she testifies.
She found out she was pregnant after she got out of jail.
1:30 p.m. Monday, March 6: The jury comes back from lunch, and Special Prosecutor Lisa Tanner continues questioning Amber McDaniel, Wilder McDaniel’s mom, in a courtroom at the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center.
Tanner is questioning her about how she would respond when Staley ran Wilder down and made dark jokes about the child.
Amber tells the jury that she would push back at first but then less as her relationship went on with Staley because he made her feel crazy for pushing back and say he was just joking.
At times, Amber would join in the joking. One day Staley messaged her about how Wilder was doing, using a racial slur in reference to the child as he often did.
“Being an extra person of color today,” Amber responded in the messages.
She testifies that “He constantly used that word. I don’t like it. That was my response.”
In another exchange, Staley talked about Wilder dying of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and she pushed back. Staley responded that he was just kidding around.
Amber ended up apologizing to Staley, she testifies, tearing up.
Amber tells the jury she was interviewed multiple times by police, and she submitted voluntarily, as well as voluntarily providing her DNA, palm prints, fingerprints and footprints voluntarily.
During an interview shortly after Amber discovered Wilder dead, she called her lost phone so that police could find it. They found her phone that day, Oct. 11.
On Oct. 22, police asked for her phone. She provided it and her passwords to the phone and her social media. But she had deleted her text conversations with Staley by that time.
Her texts with Staley before Sept. 28, when she had to do a factory reset on her phone, were already gone before then, Amber testifies.
Before Oct. 22, she went to her conversation with Staley on her phone and deleted it, Amber testifies.
“I did not want to see anything from him. I deleted pictures,” Amber testifies.
She did not want to run the risk of getting angry and sending a text after seeing something on her phone.
Amber confirms she has been charged with felony tampering with evidence for deleting the texts with Staley on her phone. She also has no deal in that case and no immunity for testifying.
She also confirms that she is charged with endangering a child for allowing Wilder to be around Staley after he said negative things about Wilder.
Amber is dabbing at her eyes with a tissue to wipe away tears.
She has not had contact with Staley since Wilder’s death although Staley has contacted her through electronic messaging.
Amber provided screenshots of those messages sent to her after Wilder’s death to WFPD Detective Chad Nelson in 2019, according to her testimony.
She reads to the jury a Snapchat message from Staley in which he says that her mom made it “abundantly clear” how she feels about him, so he assumes everyone else feels the same way.
He goes on to say she is the most beautiful woman, and he valued their time together.
In another Snap, he tells her the credit card still works, so go for it if she needs anything. It isn’t trackable. He says he put too much of his life into money, and none of that matters to him.
Staley tells her if she hates him as much as her mom does, she can give Bubba the key to his house.
In messages, he tells her that he thinks everyday what if he hadn’t brought that crib over and other what ifs.
“It all feels so unreal now. You are my person,” Staley says.
He says he loves Wilder as much as his daughter loves Amber. Staley messages he doesn’t expect her to respond, and if blaming him makes her feel better, then do so.
Amber tells the jury she knows some people might look at everything and judge her to be a gold digger. But she isn’t, and she didn’t like becoming financially dependent on Staley.
12:02 p.m. Monday, March 6: Amber testifies about the morning she found Wilder dead Oct. 11, 2018, at Staley’s home.
When she woke up, Amber could see it looked like Staley had never come to bed, she testifies. She couldn’t find her phone and jumped up to look for Wilder. She saw something in the bedroom where her child was put to bed.
“It was Wilder on the floor,” Amber said, crying. “His skin was discolored, and he had blood coming out of his mouth.”
She could tell from his body that her child was dead.
“I still rubbed his chest, and I screamed his name. I just took him, and I started running through the house,” Amber testifies.
She was looking for a phone.
Tears begin flowing among Wilder’s family members and others in the gallery as Amber recounted the discovery that her little boy was dead and the events immediately afterward.
Amber told James to get her a phone.
“I just fell to the floor holding Wilder,” Amber tells the jury.
At one point, she sees Staley still doesn’t have a phone, and she yells at him to get one, which he does and throws the phone down on the floor after dialing 911.
As Amber is getting the phone to talk to a 911 dispatcher, Staley takes Wilder to do CPR, and she tells Staley not to do CPR. Amber doesn’t want her child’s ribs broken.
She takes her child back from Staley, and help arrives, Amber testifies. She goes outside to meet emergency responders. Staley does not come with her, and he does not comfort her that morning.
At one point, Staley comes around, and Amber says, “I don’t know what to do.”
Staley tells her he doesn’t, either, Amber testifies.
That morning, she hears her mom screaming outside, and that’s how she knows her parents are there, Amber testifies. She didn’t want to ride with her family because she had been put in her sister’s car, and it felt bad in there to Amber.
Instead, she rode to the Wichita Falls Police Department with Sgt. Charlie Eipper.
At first, Amber thought it was an accident, but it wasn’t long before she began to believe Staley was responsible.
She told the jury that she felt “like I had failed my child.”
The judge dismisses the jury for lunch until around 1:30 p.m. The defense has not yet cross examined Amber, and it’s not clear if Special Prosecutor Lisa Tanner has completed her questioning of Amber.
Wilder was found dead in Staley’s Country Club area home. Then Amber Odom, she and Wilder had been staying there, and she was in a relationship with Staley. Amber was not with Bubba McDaniel, Wilder’s father, at that time. Her relationship with Staley lasted about three and a half months.
10:48 a.m. Monday, March 6: Amber testifies about how Wilder went from sleeping with her and Staley — and sometimes also with his 4-year-old daughter — to sleeping in a crib.
She tells the jury that Wilder had no history of falls and didn’t try to get out of the crib on his own.
In a message exchange on Oct. 2, 2018, Staley says, “I don’t think he can get out honestly.”
More:UPDATED Live blog: James Staley trial coverage for WEEK ONE
Amber says she doesn’t think he will try.
In testimony, Amber says after the falling out of the bed incident, things seemed to settle down in their relationship.
But Staley continued to make dark jokes about Wilder. Amber pushed back at first but then less as time went on because Staley would make her feel like she was crazy and would say he was just joking.
As things progressed, Wilder began wanting to avoid Staley.
“I feel like it started amazing, and Wilder was happy and excited,” Amber testifies about the beginning of their relationship.
But soon her child didn’t want to see Staley.
Amber testifies that she told Staley to just ignore Wilder and let the child come to him, and when he was ready, Wilder would go to Staley.
At the Oct. 6, 2018, cookout at Staley’s home with Amber’s family, Staley approaches Wilder while he’s playing with Amber’s sister’s kids, and Wilder says, “No James.”
Amber testifies that Staley began drinking before her parents arrived for the cookout.
After the cookout and the kids were in bed, Amber and James went swimming.
“Before my parents even got there, I realized that he was already drunk,” Amber told the jury. “He said he was nervous about meeting them.”
She starts to testify about Staley having a gun when a defense attorney objects, and the prosecutors and defense attorneys go up to the judge for a whispered discussion a little after 11 a.m. The judge sustains the objection about 11:08 a.m.
Amber testifies they got into an argument, and Staley told her she was crazy and to get out. They go in the house, and Staley is still mad, banging cabinet doors and stuff.
Wilder woke up because of all the noise.
“He started cussing at me and calling Wilder a crybaby,” Amber testifies.
Staley told them to get out, and Amber got Wilder and left, going to her parents’ house about 2 a.m., Amber tells the jury.
The jurors get out their giant binders of messages to follow an exchange from 1:56 a.m. Oct. 7, 2108: “Go to hell. Hope you die,” Staley says. “I kid. I’ll never ever see you again. Have a good life.”
Amber messages, “Thanks. I hope you find everything in life that you’re looking for.”
She thinks they have broken up again, but she also knows he is drunk, Amber testifies. The next day, he texts her about his daughter. Amber, thinking Staley will have a hangover, goes to take care of his daughter.
She left and went back to Staley three or four times, Amber testifies.
She tears up when she says no, that doesn’t seem healthy.
On Oct. 10, 2018, she takes her stepfather, David Taylor, out to lunch at On the Border, Amber tells the jury. They both had a margarita.
Amber is close to her stepfather, who has been in her life since she was a child.
“We were sitting there talking about Wilder,” Amber said, tearing up. “I told my dad that I missed Wilder.”
So they went to daycare to pick Wilder up early, she testified. She took a photo of him sleeping at daycare. They went back to her parent’s house, and they were there for maybe an hour.
While they were there, Staley texted her that he wanted her to come help him move from a house on Fain. She took Wilder to Whataburger first to get him something to eat.
Amber took another photo of Wilder at Whataburger around 4:30 p.m.. The jury sees the photo displayed on a screen. It’s the last photograph Amber has of her son.
They took his food to go, and Wilder had a cheeseburger, fries and a Sprite at the Fain house, and he had no problems with eating.
“Wilder loved any kind of food,” Amber told the jury.
Amber says she thinks Staley and his mother own the Fain house, and they had been keeping stuff there, but they had found a renter and needed to move out. Wilder ate in the backyard.
Amber testifies she never saw Wilder have any contact with Staley while they were there. She left with Wilder after a bit of just hanging out. Staley went to dinner with his friends, and she and Wilder went back to her parents’ house to get their stuff for the next day.
At the Fain house, Staley’s mother gave Wilder a set of toy keys, Amber testifies. Back at Staley’s house later, she and Wilder are watching SpongeBob.
Staley came into the room, got mad, said SpongeBob was stupid. He left and came back and said he didn’t want to fight.
Amber said she doesn’t want to fight, either, she testifies. She goes to give Wilder his bath and takes a quick shower, herself.
During her testimony, Staley appears to calmly listen while looking toward the witness stand at his former girlfriend.
While she is giving Wilder a bath, Staley starts playing loud music, Amber testifies. She tells Staley to turn down the music. She is trying to wind Wilder down.
Staley turned down the music and came into the bathroom with a drink for Amber.
Wilder saw him and said, “No James. No James.”
Staley started mocking Wilder, saying in a baby voice, “No James. No James. Shut the (expletive) up.”
Amber told Staley to stop talking to her son like that and to go elsewhere, she testifies.
Amber dresses Wilder in Ninja Turtle pajamas and rocks the child in the bathroom while playing his favorite song, she testifies.
She took Wilder to his crib to put him to bed, Amber testifies. Staley was not present.
She told him not to say “No James” that’s mean, Amber testifies. He said, “I’m mean, Mamma.” She told him no, he is not.
Amber told him he didn’t have to ever be afraid, Mamma will be there, she tells the jury, fighting tears.
Wilder wanted his stuffed toy, Catboy, and she couldn’t find it, Amber testifies.
“I ran all throughout the house,” she tells the jury.
She looked everywhere but didn’t find him and still doesn’t know where the toy is. Amber got frantic trying to find Catboy.
Staley told her that Wilder didn’t need Catboy, and that he was already probably asleep and Staley had shut the door and told Amber not to go back in there.
The last time Amber saw Wilder alive was when she put him to bed that night, she testifies.
That night, she checked to see if she could hear Wilder moving, and she didn’t. Amber went to Staley’s bedroom where he seemed to be in a mood.
She asked him what was going on, and Staley said “basically that I was just nagging him for no reason,” Amber testifies.
They had an argument over Wilder, and they later went to the kitchen where they talked about having a vacation. Amber wanted to take Wilder and his daughter somewhere, but Staley said no kids.
They had another argument over how Staley was talking about Wilder, and she cried, Amber testifies.
Later, they went swimming, but Staley was on his phone, and his mood did not seem to have improved. She asked him what she had done now, and he got mad and left the pool.
Amber stayed in the pool, and she could see through the house’s windows that Staley was in the kitchen drinking and eating chips and salsa. She had thought he would come back out.
She realized he wasn’t coming out and felt stupid for waiting, Amber testifies. She went into the bedroom and got a T-shirt to sleep in and went to bed.
She was supposed to go to class the next morning, and she typically made sure her phone was charging next to the bed and an alarm set on it.
Amber testifies she doesn’t recall if she did that or not that night or what time she went to bed. She repeatedly tells investigators she doesn’t know what time she went to bed, but she didn’t stay up late that night since she has class the next day.
Back then, she was often up past midnight. She and Staley were texting until 2:12 a.m. on a night close to Wilder’s death.
Amber testifies that she doesn’t recall being on Facebook that night, and she has searched for Tara Campisi and Staley’s business partner.
9:14 a.m. Monday, March 6, 2023: Amber McDaniel is on the stand this morning, the sixth day of testimony in the murder trial of James Irven Staley III in connection with the death of 2-year-old Jason Wilder McDaniel on Oct. 11, 2018, in Staley’s Wichita Falls home.
Amber testifies that Wilder was a wanted child. She had suffered a miscarriage previously.
Amber and Wilder’s father, Bubba McDaniel didn’t get married at the time of either pregnancy because it was not important to them. But they were in a serious relationship. They have been married about four years now.
When her water broke, she was terrified.
“The moment they laid him on my chest, it was like I knew him my whole life,” Amber testified.
Her parents could not get enough of Wilder, Amber testified. Her mom would steal him in the night to sleep with him.
They were happy when Amber, Bubba and the baby lived with them, and they got a new house so they could all fit comfortably together, she told the jury. Amber and Bubba split in 2017.
They had an agreement that Bubba would not pay her child support as long as she was the main custodial parent for Wilder.
“It was more of me not wanting him to get mad at me and take Wilder from me,” Amber told the jury.
It was a tradeoff, but Bubba was still in Wilder’s life, she testifies.
Wilder had few illnesses as a child beyond ear infections and mother and son both getting food poisoning, Amber testifies.
Later, she met Staley through her then best friend, Summer, Amber told the jury. Summer had met Staley through a dating site, and she wanted Amber to come with her to Staley’s home so they wouldn’t be alone.
Amber told the jury that she had never heard of the Staleys.
During her opening statement last week, Special Prosecutor Lisa Tanner told the jury the Staleys were an old Wichita Falls family with a building named after them in town.
Summer went out of the picture, and Amber and Staley developed a friendship that quickly evolved into a romantic relationship.
Things seemed to be going well, and Amber was all in on the relationship. It seemed like Staley was, too.
The first sign of trouble was when Staley got mad when Amber let Wilder sit in her lap while they were eating, she testified. He told Amber that she and Wilder should leave.
“I was a little confused, but I took my child and I left,” Amber said.
She later learned about a video that Staley sent a video out that night to several of his friends. She found out about the video about a week after Wilder’s death.
Staley started texting her, saying he didn’t want her to regret her son, Amber testified. She told him she never would. Eventually, she blocked him, and he started messing her on Facebook Messenger.
She thought the text exchange was a breakup, Amber told the jury. In response to her blocking Staley on her cell, he started contacting her on Facebook messenger.
Staley messaged Amber gay slurs about her child and told her, “You suck.” In response, Amber tried to make Staley feel stupid for the way he was talking about a 2-year-old child.
Eventually, she told Staley that she had better things to do and goodbye.
Staley had messaged her that “scumbags” and (off-color insult) needed to be culled, she testified.
Staley’s messages told her that he “disliked my child and his father very much.”
She testified earlier on Friday that she has some responsibility for what happened to Wilder because she had ignored red flags.
The incident was a giant red flag, she testified.
The jury heard this exchange of messages last week, as well as others from the over 9,000 electronic messages Amber and Staley exchanged during their approximately three-month relationship.
At times during her testimony, Amber fights tears.
The next day, Staley basically apologized to Amber, saying he was not on his mood stabilizers and blaming his rants on that.
What did Amber think about all of this?
“I thought he did have issues,” Amber testified.
She told the jury she loved her child very much, and she thought he was trying to hurt her with the messages.
She had been working in a bar for some time, and many of her nights there, she had dealt with loud, obnoxious patrons, and that had a bearing on her mindset about what was being said.
Amber testifies about working at the bar Sept. 1, 2018, and Staley becoming angry because she is too busy to check her phone. Staley says Wilder has hit his head falling off the bed, and he insists she quit her job.
The jury sees a little Mickey Mouse toy that was one of Wilder’s favorites. It has the ears and arms burned off.
Amber testifies that she discovered the toy that way one day and that Staley had joked about the “kitchen monster” doing it.
The jury sees a photo Amber took of Wilder with purple bruises on his face.
The judge gives they jury a break.
Trish Choate, enterprise watchdog reporter for the Times Record News, covers education, courts, breaking news and more. Contact her with news tips at [email protected] Her Twitter handle is @Trishapedia
This article originally appeared on Wichita Falls Times Record News: Blog: WEEK 2 of Staley trial testimony