The state and defense finished presenting their cases Thursday in the trial of Joseph Daniels. Daniels opted not to testify.
Closing arguments will take place this morning and then the jury will deliberate.
Joseph Daniels is charged with killing his 5-year-old autistic son, Joe Clyde, in 2018 and various lesser charges. His wife, Krystal Daniels, has been charged with aggravated child neglect. Her court date has not been set.
The state called two witnesses Thursday. The first was Joel Wade, a digital forensics agent with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Wade was called so the state could present the phone data of Joseph Daniels as evidence.
The state’s main witness was TBI agent Zachary Burkhart, who has been investigating the case since Joe Clyde went missing. Burkhart has been seated with the state all week, and District Attorney Ray Crouch seemed to use him to reinforce testimony that had already been given.
Burkhart’s primary testimony involved presenting evidence found on Joseph Daniels’ phone. Burkhart testified that, according to the phone records, Daniels was searching for a job.
Daniels graduated from Dickson County High School in 2008 and attended Nashville State Community College and a Tennessee College of Applied Technology school.
He resigned from his previous job Feb. 27 and was in contact with DaVita, a health care company, about his background check near the time Joe Clyde went missing. He had in fact received a conditional offer from DaVita by April 3, 2018, the day before Joe Clyde went missing.
DaVita needed documentation from Nashville State and Dickson County High School for Daniels. Burkhart showed that while Daniels was allegedly searching for Joe Clyde the morning of April 4, he had called Nashville State. He had also scanned his diploma and a W-2 on April 4 after he returned to his home from searching for Joe Clyde.
Crouch made the point that it was strange for Daniels to be doing these tasks while his son was missing. Public defender Jake Lockert asked the witness what activity wouldn’t be nefarious and pointed out that Daniels had been asked to stay at his house.
Explicit text messages
Burkhart also read Facebook messages Krystal Daniels sent to a man from Kansas named Thomas Richards.
Their messages started Feb. 10, 2018, and the messages seemed to imply that Joseph Daniels may have met him before.
In the messages, Krystal Daniels said she ripped up her marriage certificate and was planning to file for divorce. She wanted to move out with all the boys. She also said she got $1,200 a month for Joe Clyde’s disability.
During cross-examination, Burkhart testified that he was not aware of a ripped marriage license or divorce papers. He did know that Krystal and Joseph Daniels are still married.
Many of the messages were sexually explicit.
On March 28, 2018, Krystal Daniels informed Richards she was coming to Kansas to visit her mom and that she wanted to visit him. She said she was coming alone.
However, photographic evidence showed a white board in the Daniels house saying “60 days until Krystal and Alex leave for Kansas.” Alex Nolan, Krystal Daniels’ son and Joe Clyde’s half brother, testified that he did not know why they were going to Kansas.
On April 4, 2018, after a gap in the messages from the end of March, Richards messaged, “Is it true?” Krystal Daniels replied, “That’s what I’ve been told.”
The night of March 30, Joseph Daniels’ web history included searches for secret paternity tests and travel plans to Wichita.
He also texted his mother and said he would be “6 ft. under” by the time she read the message.
Lockert questioned Burkhart about what evidence he had that Joseph Daniels saw the messages and made the searches himself.
The state argued that the messages showed a possible motive and there was a possible connection between Joseph Daniels’ internet activity and Krystal Daniels’ messages.
A taekwondo video
The witness was also asked to extensively discuss the investigation into a next-door neighbor, Matthew Ledford. Ledford was interviewed in 2020 about some strange lights in his yard the night Joe Clyde went missing.
Ledford refused to turn over his phone data. Lockert pressed Burkhart as to why more investigations were not made into Ledford. Burkhart said there was no probable cause for a search warrant to obtain his data and that Ledford was never a suspect. He also testified that Ledford’s yard had a large law enforcement presence for several days and dogs searched the property.
Lockert also questioned Burkhart about whether a man in Joseph Daniels’ physical condition could carry a child like Nolan had testified he did.
Lockert played a clip of Joseph Daniels apparently practicing taekwondo, for which he reportedly had a black belt. In the video, Daniels does not appear to be physically agile at all.
Burkhart also talked through some pictures that were presented as evidence. In pictures taken when the Daniels house was first photographed on April 4, toys and trash were all over the floor.
In pictures taken April 7, during the execution of a search warrant, the house was markedly cleaner. The top half of a hutch had been removed.
Crouch also pointed out that in his confession interview April 6, Joseph Daniels was wearing a red and blue shirt. A previous witness had testified she had seen him the morning of April 4 in a red, white and blue shirt.
There was also controversy again on whether the report of a woman in Humphreys County could be introduced. The woman’s child apparently told her uncle, who told her mom, that she saw a little boy in dirty pajamas around April 6.
Judge David Wolfe ruled that the report itself could not be introduced, but Crouch and Lockert could ask questions about whether it was investigated.
Through questioning, Crouch pointed out that it was illogical to think that Joe Clyde had walked 10 miles, crossing a busy highway at one point, from a site where boots were reported missing to the home of the woman who filed the report.
Lockert ended his extensive cross-examination on whether K9 dogs ever picked up a scent in the trunk of Daniels’ car, where he said he put the body. They did not.
Debris found near home
As court wrapped up for the day, reports came in of a Dickson County Sheriff’s Office presence at the Daniels home. “Big Joe” and Belle Daniels, Joseph Daniels’ father and stepmother, who live at the home, were at the courthouse all day.
According to Sheriff Tim Eads, the DCSO did not respond to the Danielses’ property. Instead, a private investigator had found some debris in the right of way near their home. He had bagged the parts and requested the DCSO come get them.
The investigator, David Marshburn, thought the parts were important, according to Eads. However, Eads didn’t think they would affect the trial.
“It would have to be something earth shattering,” Eads said.
Marshburn, who was in the courtroom Tuesday, has been investigating Joe Clyde’s disappearance since 2018. He’s been investigating this week as well. A complaint was filed that year that Marshburn wasn’t licensed, and Marshburn admitted that he’s not licensed in the state but added that he doesn’t need to be.
Marshburn did not respond to a request for comment, but in a Facebook Live interview Tuesday, Marshburn said he needed to bring closure to the family.
“I believe Joseph’s not guilty,” he said.
The defense unexpectedly called no witnesses. Closing statements and jury instructions will take place at 8 a.m. today. Then, after randomly selected alternate jurors are sent home, the jury will deliberate.