About 100 people gathered outside the St. Clair County Courthouse on Thursday to express frustration with the court in a case against a man accused of killing a two-year-old Belleville boy.
The toddler, Kane Friess-Wylie, died last year and his mother's ex-boyfriend was charged in his death. The child's family has since rallied support from the community under the name "Justice for Kane."
Friess-Wylie's paternal grandmother, Joellan Wylie, said the family has an interview arranged with the prosecutor working the case against Gyasi Campbell in the child's death. Nevertheless, she said she is frustrated at the court process.
Campbell was charged eight months after the toddler's death with first-degree murder.
Friday is the first anniversary of Kane's death, and Wylie expects to stay close to home "and remember him; it's what we do every day."
Wylie said she heard Bob Romanik's radio show talking about the case against Campbell and she approached the radio station. Romanik organized the rally both to honor Kane and to roust St. Clair's judges. The county's judges don't treat residents the way they would treat their own families, he said, citing Campbell's million-dollar bail reduction to $150,000 on April 2.
"If that had been her (Judge Zina Cruse's) family ... there'd be no bond," he said.
Others were there to bring attention to the plight of child abuse, some being survivors of childhood abuse.
"The more people that hear this, the better to get something done. Too many kids are getting hurt," said O'Fallon resident John Swift, talking about his grandson and himself.
Swift said he had been abused as a child and grew up in foster homes, bouncing from "home to home, from school to school."
His grandson was also abused, he said, and he helped his adult son regain custody of the boy in Utah.
Dawn Reed, of Belleville, attended the rally with Jewlz, 6, who was helping hand out blue ribbons to remember Kane. They said they had made 120 ribbons and had about 20 left soon after the rally started.
The Reeds also have ties to child abuse, Dawn and her husband fostered and adopted their granddaughter Jewlz, who was being neglected and abused.
Friess-Wylie was 2 1/2 years old when his mother, Lindsey Friess, and her then-boyfriend brought him to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville on April 13. From there, he was flown to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Campbell, Friess' boyfriend at the time, was originally detained on $1 million bail. But on April 2, Judge Zina Cruse reduced his bail to $150,000. In order to be released from jail, Campbell would need to post $15,000 in cash.
Campbell's defense attorney filed a motion to reduce bond on March 21. In it, the attorney included at least eight letters from various people defending the man's character.
In addition, a letter to the court was filed March 21 by Friess. She wrote that she did not believe the first-degree murder charge was appropriate in this case.
"I am not saying I think he should be free," the toddler's mother wrote in the three-page letter. "I believe there is a proper charge & sentence for the death of my son. And I do not believe 1st degree murder is that charge."
Fries claimed in September that Campbell’s story about what happened to the toddler had changed several times — from in which room the injury occurred to how her child was injured.
In addition, prosecutors filed two unrelated charges against the boyfriend in early August. He is accused of unlawfully entering Friess’ home in Belleville just after midnight on July 17 and damaging her television.
He is scheduled to have a bench trial in that case this July, according to online court records.
In April after the toddler's death, police initially detained an unnamed “person of interest," but that person was quickly released. Search warrants later showed that person to be Campbell, now of Berkeley, Missouri.
A search warrant stated that Friess came home April 13 to find Campbell holding Kane in a reclining chair. The toddler was conscious but obviously ill, vomiting right after she arrived.
Campbell put Kane’s head under a water faucet to revive him while Friess called 911, according to court documents.
“I’ve never seen a child hurt like that before in my life,” she told the News-Democrat in September. “It was just too much for me, after I held Kane.”
Campbell has pleaded not guilty in the first-degree murder case, according to court records. His next appearance is scheduled for April 30.
He was listed as an inmate in St. Clair County Jail as of Thursday afternoon.