At ‘Justice for Kane’ trial, two experts say it wasn’t a fall that killed the toddler

An emergency room doctor who examined Kane Friess-Wylie in April of 2017 and the St. Louis forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy said his injuries were not consistent with the story the boyfriend of the toddler’s mother told police.

At least 20 people, mostly supporters of Kane’s father, TJ Wylie, and grandmother, Lori Friess, filled the seats at the St. Clair County courthouse Tuesday morning for day two of the trial against Gyasi Campbell, who is accused of killing the 2-year-old in 2017. Many of them wept or exited the courtroom during the testimony of Dr. Erin Ely, an assistant medical examiner in St. Louis who conducted the autopsy on the child’s body.

She determined that the cause of Friess-Wylie’s death was blunt-force trauma and that the manner of death was homicide.

Campbell, who has been out of police custody since his bond was reduced in April 2018, had told police the child fell in the bathtub and hit his head.

He wore a dark blue dress shirt and black pants as he sat and listened to the witnesses for the prosecution contradicted his version of what happened on the night Friess-Wylie died. Campbell waived his right to a jury trial, instead opting for a bench trial overseen by Judge Andrew J. Gleeson.

Campbell is being represented by Justin A. Kuehn.

The first of those witnesses called by Assistant State’s Attorneys Bernadette Schrempp and Judy Dalan was Dr. Qumar Zaman, the pediatrician who attended to Kane the night he was brought in to the St. Elizabeth Hospital emergency room on April 13, 2017.

Zaman could not identify Campbell, but testified that the person who brought Kane to the hospital that night was a young, African-American man who appeared to be “very, very anxious.” Campbell, the accused, fits the physical description the doctor gave. Zaman said the man told the ER nurse that he was either “a stepdad or boyfriend (of Kane’s mom).”

The doctor said Kane was unresponsive and “in critical condition.” He said he intubated Kane to assist in his breathing and ordered a CT scan, which revealed several hemorrhages around the 2-year-old’s brain and so much swelling that it caused the partition in the middle of the brain to shift to one side.

Zaman said he was concerned about the pressure build on Kane’s brain and discussed with doctors at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital taking the boy into neurosurgery. He said he was “not surprised” when he learned later that Kane had died. Zaman would not speculate on what had caused the injuries.

The prosecution also questioned Ely, who testified that Friess-Wylie had multiple injuries, including bruises on his face, abdomen and arms and legs.

Ely said that it’s difficult to accurately date bruising, but that it probably was not the result of any medical intervention that would have happened after he was brought to the hospital.

When prosecutors displayed photos from the autopsy, many in the courtroom began to weep and had to leave.

Ely indicated that there were no “gross abnormalities” from the neck down on Kane’s body, but that there was ample evidence of a traumatic brain injury on his head, especially when the tissue was viewed under a microscope.

Ely said that this type of injury is usually seen in people who have been in high-velocity car crashes, have fallen from a significant height, or have been abused.

Campbell claimed Kane fell in the bathtub, but Ely testified that the injury was not consistent with a fall of less than six feet. She said the injuries could have resulted from a hard strike to the head.

Ely told the prosecution there is a 1 to 3 percent chance the skull would be fractured in the kind of fall described by Campbell, and of that percentage, only 1 percent would have resulted in the kind of hematoma revealed by the autopsy.

Also providing testimony Tuesday was Illinois State Police crime scene investigator Virgil Perkins and Justin Biggs, an investigator with the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department who first interrogated Campbell.

Campbell’s trial is expected to last the rest of the week.


Why we did this story

A widespread public awareness campaign followed the death of 2-year-old Kane Friess-Wylie. Driven by countless yard signs and the hashtag #justiceforkane, few trials in recent years have garnered as much public interest as this one. As part of a renewed commitment to courthouse coverage, the BND reported daily on the trial and its outcome.

Hana Muslic has been a public safety reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat since August 2018, covering everything from crime and courts to accidents, fires and natural disasters. She is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and her previous work can be found in The Lincoln Journal-Star and The Kansas City Star.