A look back at the three year effort to find justice for Joe Clyde Daniels

Joe Clyde Daniels: Search Enters Day 3
Posted at 2:33 PM, Jun 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-14 08:01:15-04

CHARLOTTE, Tenn. (WTVF) — It was a case that shook Dickson County to its core. April 4, 2018, Joe Clyde Daniels, a five-year-old little boy with autism was reported missing from his home that he shared with his parents, grandparents, aunt and two siblings.

Almost immediately, Tennesseans did what they do best -- volunteered to search for the boy. But hours turned into days, it became more likely this would turn into a recovery instead of search mission.

Four days later, there was a break in the case. The boy was still missing, but investigators had their suspect, his father, Joseph Daniels.

"Where Is Baby Joe?" protesters chanted as Joseph was walked into the old Dickson County Courthouse for arraignment on April 13, 2018.

And so began a three year legal process, full of hearings and unexpected COVID-19 related delays. The case was followed intently in Nashville, across Middle Tennessee and for some, around the world.

Then, on June 3, 2021 came Joseph's trial -- held at the brand new Dickson County Justice Center on Spring Street in Charlotte. The state put on more than 250 exhibits and dozens of witnesses were questioned, but the most consequential was Alex Nolan.

"Well, I woke up to this loud thing. I didn’t go in there immediately but," said Alex as he paused to cry on the stand.

"I know this is tough. I know it’s tough," responded District Attorney General Ray Crouch.

Now 11 years old, Joe Clyde's half brother had to testify against his own step-father and with other family members sitting inside the courtroom. Given his age, NewsChannel 5 decided to not show his face on air.

"The defendant started walking down the driveway?" asked DA Crouch.

"Yes," replied Alex.

"What had he done with Joe Clyde?" asked Crouch.

"He had him in his arms," replied an emotional Alex.

But Alex's testimony wasn't without controversy. When the child was eight years old, his account was different to law enforcement -- claiming Joseph wasn't responsible and that he didn't know what happened to his half brother.

"When did you change your story?" asked Matt Mitchell, the Assistant Public Defender representing Daniels.

"When did I change my story? Whenever I remembered. It was blocked off until a couple months ago," replied Alex.

The key piece of evidence was Joseph's hours long interview with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. At first, Joseph remained insistent he didn't know what happened to Joe Clyde, but after persistent questions, he confessed to killing his son.

"Why did I kill my son? Why did I kill my son?" Daniels screamed through tears during the confession.

In closing arguments, the prosecution showed a video of Joe Clyde playfully upset because his teacher didn't have an apple for him. "Don’t be so mad, we’re going to play a fun game instead. No? You want an apple more than anything?" Ms. Donnerstag, a speech pathlogist said in the video clip to Joe Clyde.

And then, after nine hours of deliberation, on the ninth day of the trial, a jury of twelve men and women sealed the defendant's fate. "As to the charge of first degree murder in the perpetration of a felony crime, how does the jury find?" asked Judge David Wolfe.

"Guilty, sir" replied the Jury Foreman.

So many questions remain, like the location of a body or motive. But we do know this -- a community shaken to it's core now has a few more answers. Hopefully, one day, Dickson County will be able to find peace.