The trial of Joseph Ray Daniels, accused of killing his son, 5-year-old Joe Clyde Daniels, in 2018, started Thursday afternoon.
The jury is made up of 10 women and six men. The jurors are from Hamilton County. They will be sequestered at a hotel in Dickson County for the remainder of the trial. Judge David Wolfe told the jury to pack for two weeks.
Joseph Daniels has pleaded not guilty to five charges: first-degree murder, murder committed during a felony, aggravated child abuse, initiating a false report and tampering with evidence.
He was present in the courtroom and wore a purple plaid button-up shirt. The jury was later told that Joe Clyde loved wearing plaid button-ups.
Joseph Daniels also had a bandage on his forehead. He had to take medication during a recess, and his hands shook.
District Attorney Ray Crouch and Jake Lockert, the attorney for Daniels, shared opening statements.
Crouch told jurors the evidence they would hear that points to Daniels killing his son. He painted Daniels as an intelligent man with a degree in computer science. He had even authored a science fiction novel, Crouch said.
Crouch also said Daniels had mental health issues and called him a “malingerer,” someone who fakes symptoms.
Crouch said Daniels made multiple conflicting confessions saying he had killed Joe Clyde and hid the body in the area. Daniels later admitted he lied about where the body was and said he dumped it off a bridge.
Lockert told the jury that law enforcement had accused Daniels of lying and wanted him to say he did something.
Lockert painted a picture of law enforcement officials asking leading questions of Daniels to get the confession they wanted. Lockert pointed out that even Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officials said they didn’t believe him.
He called the prosecution “absurd” and said the state kept changing the facts of the case.
The state called five witnesses Thursday afternoon: Joe Clyde’s speech language pathologist, the boy’s bus driver, the 911 dispatcher who answered Joseph Daniels’ call and two members of the Dickson County Sheriff’s Office who responded to the house.
Jessica Donnerstag, the speech language pathologist, had taken pictures and videos of the boy that the state produced as evidence.
Joe Clyde had developmental disabilities and was in the first percentile for his age group in gross motor skills. He had autism and was nonverbal. Donnerstag’s videos showed a mostly happy little boy who pronounced words like “ice cream” as “eye eee” and communicated through nonverbal means.
The state played school bus footage from the last day Joe Clyde was seen and bodycam footage from some of the first officers on the scene. It also played the 911 call in which Joseph Daniels said his son had “escaped.”
The 911 dispatcher, Chelsea Lampley, testified that Daniels had sounded extremely calm on the call.
Nicholas Deerman, who was with the Dickson County Sheriff’s Office when Joe Clyde disappeared, testified about the K-9s that tracked two trails to the pond. However, no body was found even after the pond was pumped.
Lockert cross-examined Deerman to ask if the K-9s tracked anything to the car where the state said Joseph Daniels put the body. Deerman said he wasn’t a K-9 handler.
Derek Smith, with the Dickson County Sheriff’s Office, testified that Daniels had left the property while he was filing a missing children’s report.
The trial will resume at 8:30 a.m. today.