James Irven Staley III listens during his change of venue hearing Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in 89th District Court.
A judge has ordered a change of venue for the murder trial of a man accused of killing 2-year-old Jason Wilder McDaniel, court documents show.
Senior District Judge Everett Young cited safety concerns, threats made by Wilder’s father, Robert “Bubba” McDaniel Jr., and pretrial publicity in his nine-page explanation of why he will order the trial of James Irven Staley III moved to Tarrant County, according to court documents filed Wednesday.
More:Staley’s lawyers cite elevator issues in change of venue request
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Young found that Staley, 39, could not receive a fair and impartial trial in Wichita County, court records show.
“In addition to pervasive and prejudicial publicity there is a very real and substantial danger of violence and intimidation to the trial participants especially by Robert (Bubba) McDaniel which the Court is simply not able to ignore,” the judge wrote in his decision.
Apparently in response to Young’s decision, Bubba posted on Facebook Wednesday: “Lol, tell the judge he has to worry about it EVERYWHERE anyway… It aint a game . . . .”
A search of Wichita County’s online system for court records showed no trial date had been set as of Wednesday afternoon.
Authorities allege Wilder was smothered with a pillow while staying at Staley’s home in the 2000 block of Irving Place on Oct. 11, 2018, with his mother, Amber McDaniel, who was dating Staley during a time when she was not together with Bubba, according to allegations in court and autopsy records.
Jason Wilder McDaniel
Staley’s legal team filed for a change of venue Jan. 19. A hearing during which Bubba, 39, and several others testified was held May 10 in 89th District Court.
Young noted in his findings that the murder case has been extensively and widely covered, more than almost any case in Wichita County over the last several years.
The judge found the media coverage was pervasive and prejudicial in large part against Staley while sympathetic to Wilder and his parents, according to court documents. But news reports have not been inflammatory.
Much of the judge’s findings found issues with actions on the part of Bubba, a 39-year-old former professional mixed martial arts fighter.
More:Bubba takes stand in change of venue hearing
Bubba, supported by others on social media, was the source of inflammatory statements and posts, according to the judge. The Justice for Wilder campaign formed shortly after Wilder’s death to pressure the police to arrest Staley.
Local community members and others responded with sympathy and support for the McDaniels after their son’s death over the two years before Staley was arrested and charged in connection with it.
According to the judge’s findings, the garage doors at Staley’s home on Irving Place were quickly spray painted and vandalized with the words, “Baby Killer,” and the back of the house was vandalized with the symbol for the Justice for Wilder campaign — not by Bubba but someone unknown to him who was inspired by the campaign.
Senior District Judge Everett Young sits on the bench in 89th District Court during a change of venue hearing for the James Irven Staley III murder case Tuesday, May 10, 2022.
During the May 10 hearing, Bubba testified about posting almost daily about Wilder’s death, posts that included “violent, filthy and obscene rants” about Staley, according to the judge.
Bubba was also charged with a misdemeanor terroristic threat charge, later dismissed, after he threatened on Facebook Live on Oct. 26, 2018, to kill Staley and offered a $10,000 reward for his whereabouts, according to Young.
“His arrest sparked outrage on Facebook that Mr. McDaniel should be arrested while Mr. Staley had not been arrested,” the judge said in his findings.
The judge wrote that the Justice for Wilder campaign’s purpose seems to have morphed into, “What is Bubba going to do next?”
“It is no wonder that Mr. Staley fled Wichita Falls for Oklahoma,” Young said in his findings.
The judge also noted that Bubba showed his capacity for violence when he fired a gun at an occupied vehicle in front of witnesses.
In April, Bubba pleaded guilty to an alleged road rage incident on Aug. 15, 2020, in Wichita Falls and is on probation for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, court records show.
More:Bubba takes plea in alleged road rage incident
“Mr. McDaniel has testified that he has done nothing violent to Mr. Staley and that the State will have the first shot at him. This is a little ominous under all of the circumstances,” the judge said in his findings.
Young observed that Bubba did not back off of threats of vigilante violence during the May 10 hearing.
The judge wrote that a defendant should not be tried in a county where he has to be concerned about his life and safety during trial, and his defense lawyers shouldn’t have to be concerned, either.
Defense attorney Terri Moore questions Robert “Bubba” McDaniel Jr. On Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in 89th District Court.
“It is concerning to the court to have an atmosphere where witnesses or jurors are subject to threat if their testimony or findings might be perceived as helping the defendant,” Young said in his findings.
Young wrote that he realizes having the trial in another county won’t totally guarantee the safety of participants — assuming Bubba’s probation officer allows him to travel to attend it.
But changing the trial’s location to a county with a courthouse with more security features will lessen the danger a lot, the judge said in his findings.
“Mr. McDaniel has been very outspoken and upfront about his thoughts and the actions he may take at any time against anybody. His threats should be taken seriously to avert potential violence and in order to have a fair trial,” Young said in his findings.
More:Wilder’s mother charged with tampering with evidence, child endangerment
Young said a broken-down elevator in the Wichita County Courthouse and the subsequent use of an old jail elevator — brought up by defense attorneys in their quest for a change of venue — were becoming moot.
The Wichita County District Attorney’s Office strongly opposed moving the trial in court records and during the May hearing.
Prosecutors contended Staley and his lawyers didn’t meet heavy burdens to prove a change of venue is necessary, court records show.
Staley is charged with capital murder of a person under 10 years old and with first-degree murder. A jury is expected to choose between the charges. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.
Jason Wilder McDaniel is shown here with his mother, Amber McDaniel.
Staley has pleaded not guilty to the murder charges and maintains his innocence of additional charges.
He is charged with injury to a child in connection with an Aug. 31, 2018, incident allegedly involving Wilder and tampering/fabricating physical evidence, according to court records.
Staley is suspected of moving Wilder’s body to stage the crime scene, according to allegations in court documents.
More:Staley facing new charges
This article originally appeared on Wichita Falls Times Record News: Change of venue granted in James Staley murder trial