WICHITA FALLS, Texas (KFDX/KJTL) — The mother of Wilder McDaniel, the two-year-old boy found dead in her boyfriend’s home in October of 2018 turned herself in at the Wichita County jail Thursday morning after detectives gained access to previously deleted cell phone messages, and filed charges of child endangerment and tampering with evidence.
Recommended bonds on Amber Odom McDaniel are $50,000 and $10,000.
Detectives made a break in their investigation in April when a phone recovered from the night of the death which had not been able to be unlocked was given to the Secret Service Lab, which was able to bypass all security on the phone. Authorities had seized phones belonging both to Amber McDaniel and James Staley, who is charged with the capital murder by suffocation of Wilder. The district attorney’s office also brought in a forensic expert to do phone analysis.
According to the affidavit, Amber had never previously disclosed the messages between her and Staley to investigators. The redacted affidavit can be found here.
On July 2, 2021, Amber admitted to WFPD that she had deleted the messages from the phone which she knew were important to the investigation into her son’s death.
The messages revealed that the abuse of Wilder began months before his death. The affidavit stated, “In these messages between Staley and Amber, James Staley’s hostility, hatred and violence toward Wilder McDaniel is clear. Having reviewed these messages, your affiant believes they show James Staley to be erratic, unhinged, violent, and a clear danger to Wilder McDaniel. Together with the previous Facebook Messenger messages put Amber McDaniel on notice that James Staley was an imminent threat to Wilder McDaniel’s well-being.”
When detectives interviewed Amber the day of Wilder’s death, they say she admitted that her phone had been reset at some point, but there were pictures on her phone of bruising on Wilder.
The affidavit states the following day in a follow-up interview, Amber showed detectives screenshots from Facebook conversations between her and Staley.
During this interview, police say Amber’s attorney asked if she had deleted any text messages, and Amber stated she believed she had but she wasn’t sure.
Although detectives were unable to access the phones due to them being password-protected, a Secret Service lab was able to break the encryption earlier this year.
The affidavit states that despite repeated meetings with investigators with WFPD and the Wichita County DA’s office, Amber never disclosed these messages until she was confronted on July 2.
Investigators say Amber admitted during the July 2 interview she had done a factory reset of her phone on September 27, 2018, however, the affidavit states “from September 27, 2018, until the murder on October 11, 2018, there were significant messages that showed James Staley’s motive for Wilder McDaniel’s murder.”
The affidavit states that the deleted messages that were unable to be located on Amber’s phone were “powerful evidence of James Staley murdering Wilder because they show motive: James Staley’s extreme hatred of Wilder, Staley wishing Wilder dead, and Staley physically abusing Wilder. Amber McDaniel never disclosed these messages to law enforcement, but instead deleted them from her phone.”
The affidavit states that while the deleted messages show no violent messages from Amber about Wilder, “they show Amber ignoring or looking the other way regarding Staley’s expressed hatred and violence toward Wilder. By deleting and withholding this key evidence from law enforcement, knowing that an investigation into Wilder’s death was occurring, Amber McDaniel significantly delayed for months the investigation that leads to the arrest of James Staley.”
The investigators say in whole, the messages between Amber and Staley show the Staley’s comments of beating and punching Wilder were not isolated but were a long pattern of Staley telling Amber he was a threat to Wilder and would have caused any protective mother to protect her child by cutting off contact.
They also say the messages are powerful evidence of Staley’s murder because they show a motive: his extreme hatred of Wilder, wishing him dead and physically abusing Wilder.