New defense lawyer retained in James Staley’s appeal of conviction for Wilder’s murder

A renowned defense attorney has been retained — not court-appointed — to represent James Irven Staley III in the appeal of his murder conviction for the killing of 2-year-old Jason Wilder McDaniel in Wichita Falls, court records show.

Keith S. Hampton of Austin has notably gotten clients exonerated on appeal and clemency granted for at least one who was on death row.

In August, Hampton filed a notice that he was retained to be the lead counsel in Staley’s appeals case.

He has been filing various documents since, including requests for more time to file a brief detailing the basis for Staley’s appeal. The brief is now due Oct. 23.

Taxpayers do not pick up the tab for an attorney who is retained, but Wichita County taxpayers are footing the bill for Staley’s court-appointed attorney, J. Warren St. John.

He is still listed as a defense lawyer on Staley’s case in the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth. While no documents have been filed in reference to St. John withdrawing from the case, it is likely he will not take part in Staley’s representation since Hampton has been retained.

It was not clear Tuesday how Hampton is being compensated for representing Staley, 40. He and St. John did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday morning.

With Staley’s resources drained by the cost of his murder trial and his business stalling, the once wealthy oilman was found to be indigent by Senior District Judge Everett Young on March 15 at the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center in Fort Worth.

Appeals attorney Keith Hampton answers questions Nov. 6, 2019, from reporters at the Williamson County Justice Center about Greg Kelley's exoneration. Kelley was accused in 2013 of sexually assaulting two 4-year-old boys at an in-home daycare site operated by a friend's family in Cedar Park. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

A jury found Staley guilty March 13 of capital murder of a child under 10. Young quickly handed down Staley’s automatic sentence of life without parole that day.

Before deputies led him away in handcuffs, Staley told onlookers in the courtroom, “I did not kill Wilder McDaniel.”

Many responded, “Yes, you did!”

Prosecutors believe Staley smothered Wilder to death in a crib at the oilman’s Country Club area home on Oct. 11, 2018, and then moved the body to the bedroom floor, attempting to stage a death scene so it would look like the toddler died from a fall from the crib.

Supporters of the Justice for Wilder campaign, spearheaded by the child’s father, Robert “Bubba” McDaniel Jr., 40, called for Staley’s arrest.

He was arrested and charged about two years later in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, where he had moved. Everett was appointed to preside as judge over the trial. He subsequently ordered it moved to Tarrant County, citing safety concerns and pretrial publicity.

On Sept. 28, Wilder’s mother, Amber Nichole McDaniel, was sentenced in 30th District Court in Wichita Falls to two years in state jail for child endangerment for bringing Wilder around Staley and five years of probation for tampering with evidence in connection with the child’s murder investigation.

Defense attorney J. Warren St. John

A Tarrant County jury found Amber, 33, guilty and assessed her punishment after a trial of about seven days in the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center. Thirtieth District Judge Jeff McKnight had ordered the trial moved out of Wichita County because of pretrial publicity.

On April 28, she, pleaded guilty in 30th District Court in Wichita Falls to child endangerment, a state jail felony punishable by up to two years behind bars, and tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Amber had deleted text messages between her and Staley during their ill-fated 75-day romance that ended with Wilder’s murder. She left it up to a jury to determine her punishment. As of the day of her sentencing, Amber did not plan to appeal her convictions.

Trish Choate, enterprise watchdog reporter for the Times Record News, covers education, courts, breaking news and more. Contact Trish with news tips at [email protected]. Read her recent work here. Her X handle is @Trishapedia.

This article originally appeared on Wichita Falls Times Record News: James Staley gets new attorney to appeal Wilder murder conviction

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