A Tennessee man accused of murdering his missing 5-year-old son returned to court Thursday – even as the body of the boy who’s been presumed dead by authorities remains missing three years later.
Joseph Daniels, now 30, told a 911 dispatcher on April 4, 2018, that his autistic and nonverbal son – Joseph “Baby Joe” Clyde – had escaped from their home in rural Dickson County, Tennessee, WKRN reported.
“My son has escaped. We cannot find him,” Daniels is heard saying on the call. “He must’ve unlocked the door. He got out.”
Law enforcement and volunteer search crews scoured the area, as then-Dickson County Sheriff Jeff Bledsoe described both a mental and physical toll on the community that the child hadn’t been recovered. But then shocking news came just four days later – when it was announced that Daniels allegedly confessed to beating his son to death and disposing of the body and was charged with criminal homicide.
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Daniels has since recanted that confession, and his defense attorney, Jake Lockert, said his client had been coerced into it, WTVF reported. As Daniels returned to a courtroom in Dickson County Thursday, Judge David Wolfe will consider several pre-trial motions and is expected to decide this week whether that confession can be used during the trial scheduled to start June 1.
During a prior hearing last month, prosecutors and defense agreed to separate the cases for Joseph Daniels and the boy’s mother, 29-year-old Krystal Nicole Daniels, into two trials. Prosecutors have accused the woman of helping to cover up her son’s murder. She was arrested on April 9, 2018, and is charged with aggravated child neglect or endangerment.
Dickson County Mayor Bob Rial spoke with WKRN in April for an interview coinciding with the three-year anniversary of Baby Joe’s disappearance. He recalled how crowds had gathered outside the county courthouse in 2018 with signs demanding justice for the child, as Baby Joe’s parents were both escorted into the building shortly after his disappearance.
“Dad knows where. Mom too,” one sign read. “You were there my first day, and my last.”
“There’s the frustration of not being able to find him, but the tragedy when it occurred, it really cut to the soul of the community,” Rial told the outlet last month. “It was very painful for everyone.”
The boy is presumed dead, and searches for his remains conducted periodically over the past few years all turned up empty. The latest search was carried out in May 2020 by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in the backyard of the family’s residence, WKRN reported.
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Last month, the defense announced a new key witness to the case – an unidentified woman who lives in the area. That woman claims that her then-5-year-old daughter was playing outside a few days after Baby Joe was reported missing and had encountered a young boy.
“We find a lady whose child, within a day or two, came in to say there is a little boy out front in dirty pajamas,” Lockert said, according to WTVF.
She says her daughter had asked the boy’s name and that he responded “5” – something defense attorneys claim to be significant given Baby Joe had autism. Baby Joe’s grandfather previously said that his grandson sometimes responded with his age when asked his name.