A Texas bartender whose toddler son was found dead in her boyfriend’s home three years ago has been arrested after Secret Service investigators helped local police crack encrypted phone messages that allegedly show her indifference to his repeated threats against her child.
An affidavit detailing the exchanges includes allegations of extreme cruelty and graphic child abuse – the details of which are unfit to print. Yet Amber McDaniel is accused of doing nothing to stop it and continuing to date James Staley III, bring her toddler to his house and leave them unattended together.
McDaniel and Staley were dating for several months by October 2018, when police and EMS responded to his house on Irving Place in Wichita Falls, Texas, according to an arrest affidavit.
They found McDaniel “extremely upset” and cradling Jason “Wilder” McDaniel, 2, in her arms. He was dead.
Investigators believed that McDaniel had been drunk and asleep in another room while Staley allegedly choked her son to death. He was charged with capital murder in 2020.
New evidence led to felony child endangerment and evidence tampering charges against McDaniel this week, Wichita Falls’ KFDX-TV reported Friday, the same day she was freed on $60,000 bond.
The Secret Service lab cracked the phones this past spring. After police reviewed their contents, they alleged that Staley had “directed an ongoing stream of hatred, violence and threats toward Wilder McDaniel to Amber” throughout the course of their relationship – which she allegedly ignored.
“Your affiant believes any minimally protective mother would have immediately cut off Staley’s access to her son after receiving those Facebook messages,” detectives wrote in the arrest affidavit.
McDaniel had not previously disclosed the messages, and the affidavit alleges that she admitted to deleting them when confronted by investigators in July.
The messages show Staley describing the two-year-old with homophobic and racist slurs. They also mock the child for having a variety of special needs, although investigators said they found no evidence the child suffered any such impairments.
The messages found on Staley’s phone include other demeaning language, talk about locking Wilder in a box or tossing him in the trash, make obscene threats and jokes about hurting the child, and even appear to admit to doing so.
On many occasions, McDaniel appears to take the messages as jokes, responding with laughter. She is not accused of sending any violent messages about her own son – although one message references abandoning him.
Police also recovered a video from Staley’s cracked phone that showed him holding Wilder, “who has massive bruises on his head and looks very scared,” and asking McDaniel to come home early from her bartending shift.
She never reported the bruising, and she continued to date him until her son’s death.
“Your affiant believes that Amber committed the offense of endangering Wilder, a child, on an ongoing basis by regularly forcing Wilder to be around James Staley, and by getting drunk and going to bed and leaving James Staley up in a house while her son, who Staley hated, as asleep in the other room,” the affidavit concludes.
McDaniel’s husband and Wilder’s father, Bubba McDaniel, told the Wichita Falls-based KFDX-TV Thursday that he only blames Staley for his son’s death – but that his child’s mother has expected to face consequences for a long time.
“James Staley killed my son,” he told the station. “James Staley was the one that was saying all these things.”
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