Darryl Daniels will get his day in court. The trial of the former Clay County sheriff will begin with jury selection in less than two weeks.
Daniels, who is charged with tampering with evidence, attempted destruction of evidence and five counts of providing false information to law enforcement, unexpectedly appeared in person for the final pre-trial hearing Thursday. Only his attorneys had been present in court previously for the hearings.
Daniels’ tampering with evidence charges relate to deleting Google account and cellphone data while knowing he was under investigation, according to court documents.
Daniels’ trial was initially set to begin Dec. 13, 2021. It was pushed back until February and then it was delayed until May 16, before Daniels’ lawyers and the special prosecutor agreed to push the trial back to Sept. 12.
As News4JAX has been covering this case, a few reasons for the delays included new charges being added and witnesses having to be deposed later than scheduled.
People News4JAX spoke with Thursday said they’ll watch to see how it pans out now that the trial is moving forward.
“It’s going to be interesting,” one Clay County resident said.
State Attorney Melissa Nelson recused her office because of a conflict of interest, so the Fifth Circuit State Attorney’s Office from Ocala is handling the case after being appointed as an independent prosecutor by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The trial will be held in Clay County but will be presided over by St. Johns County Judge R. Lee Smith, as all Clay County judges also recused themselves from the case.
The judge told both sides Thursday that jury selection will begin Sept. 12, and he expects testimony to begin the next day. The Clay County Clerk of Courts told News4JAX the jury will be chosen from Clay County residents.
“To get an unbiased jury is what I really worry about. He did some great things, and personal life got in the way,” another Clay County resident said. “Are the people that are going to testify actually going to tell the truth or are they going to have fabricated thoughts about what went on.”
Sources told News4JAX that Daniels rejected a plea offer, but on Thursday, the prosecutor said there was no offer from the state, which means whatever plea negotiations were taking place didn’t go anywhere.
Daniels acknowledged in court Thursday that if convicted of the felonies, he could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
Daniels was arrested in August 2020 after an investigation was launched into an affair between Daniels and a woman named Cierra Smith, who was a corrections officer at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office when Daniels was the JSO director of the jail.
According to the investigation, Daniels and Smith were in a relationship while they worked at JSO, where Daniels was Smith’s boss. The affair continued after Daniels was elected sheriff of Clay County in 2016.
Smith told News4JAX that Daniels abused his power while at JSO. When JSO’s internal investigation was about to be released, Daniels and Smith admitted to their affair. Daniels is accused of ordering one of his deputies to illegally arrest Smith for stalking him in 2019 after he told his wife the affair was over.
When Daniels’ wife demanded to meet with Smith herself, Daniels called Smith to warn her and said she should “protect herself by any means necessary,” court documents show.
“We’re adults. We both have to own up to it, so pushing it on one person or toward someone else isn’t how we’ll get this resolved at this point,” Smith told News4JAX in a previous interview.
Investigators said Daniels lied to them about the actions he took when the affair became public and had his phone scrubbed of incriminating communications.
News4JAX got a copy of a deposition Smith recorded last year. Notably, the witness’ name was redacted. News4JAX was there as Smith walked into the office.