Mother of slain toddler testifies at ‘Justice for Kane’ trial

Lindsey Friess and Gyasi Campbell cried as the prosecution played a 45-minute recorded conversation the two had in 2017. In it, Friess said she could no longer trust her boyfriend of two years because he lied to her about how her 2-year-old son, Kane Friess-Wylie, died just a few days before.

The conversation, played for Judge Dennis Doyle and at least 20 people in a St. Clair County courtroom, was recorded on a hidden device police had given to Friess after Campbell provided three different versions of how the child sustained the fatal injuries. He’s now on trial for first-degree murder.

In the second day of testimony Tuesday, Assistant State’s Attorneys Bernadette Schrempp and Judy Dalan called Friess, 26, to the witness stand to go over what happened the night of April 13, 2017, when Campbell was watching her son.

The couple had been living together in a two-bedroom apartment in Belleville after their daughter Arabella was born in January 2017. Friess’ two sons from previous relationships, Eli and Kane, also lived in the apartment.

Friess testified that Eli was at his father’s house for the weekend, and that she left Kane and Arabella in Campbell’s care while she went to a friend’s house for dinner and to go grocery shopping. Friess said she left her apartment around 5:30 p.m. that day, with Kane napping and Arabella lounging with her father.

Later that night, Campbell told Friess with a text that he was going to give the kids baths and put them to bed by the time she came home. But when a friend dropped her off at home just after 8:30 p.m., she said she walked in to find Campbell cradling an unresponsive Kane like a baby, saying the toddler had taken a tumble out of the bathtub and onto the bathroom floor.

When Kane vomited seconds after, she said she started to panic.

Friess told the court that when she picked up her son, his eyes were looking up and his pupils were dilated. She gave her son back to Campbell and ran out to the driveway to grab the friend she’d been with. Her friend and Campbell attempted to revive Kane by running water over his face in the bathtub, Friess said. When that didn’t work, she said the two took him to the emergency room at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville.

Her friend picked up Friess after the toddler was transported to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital for surgery.

There, Friess said she and a social worker were discussing what happened when Campbell walked in. He told the social worker that Kane had fallen in the bathtub, not out of it like he originally said. Friess testified that the social worker gave her a suspicious look.

Friess was the only family member with Kane when he died at the hospital following the surgery, she said.

In the early morning hours of April 14, investigators from the Southern Illinois Child Death Task Force interviewed her once at her friend’s house, then again at the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department, where they extracted texts from her and Campbell’s cell phones.

When she returned to her apartment that afternoon after the second interview, she said she found broken glass in the bathroom, which she suspected was from a candle that was missing. That prompted her to call police.

Campbell, while in custody at the St. Clair County Jail, called Friess twice on the phone. During the recorded conversations, Friess grilled Campbell, telling him to “just tell the truth, we all want to know what happened.”

In the recording, Campbell begins to cry before telling Friess that he lied about the bathtub fall, saying Kane instead fell when Campbell had put him on the table in their living room and that he didn’t see him fall, but heard it.

“Why would you make up a story?” Friess asks Campbell over the phone.

Campbell told her in the conversation that he didn’t think the incident was that serious and that he feared Friess would be mad at him for placing Kane on the table in the first place.

During the recorded conversation, both Friess and Campbell cried. Friess told her boyfriend “I deserve to know what happened to my son!” Campbell said he loved Kane like his own child and would never intentionally hurt him.

During the recorded conversation, Campbell said he wanted to speak with Friess alone, not on the jail’s phone system.

After his release from police custody, Campbell met with Friess again at their apartment days later, while Friess was recording the conversation on two devices provided to her by police. She asked Campbell to walk her through what happened again. He repeated that he put Kane on the kitchen table after his bath, turned around to check on baby Arabella and heard Kane fall to the floor.

In the recording, Campbell can be heard yelling, “My son! My son!,” and reiterating that he loved and cared for Kane like his own.

“I didn’t see him fall, but I would have prevented that from happening if I could,” he said.

The second day of the trial ended just after 5 p.m. Campbell waived his right to a jury trial in June. He is being represented by Justin A. Kuehn.

Friess will take the stand again Wednesday morning for the defense’s cross-examination.

In earlier testimony Tuesday morning, Dr. Erin Ely, the St. Louis forensic pathologist who conducted Kane’s autopsy, said his injuries were not consistent with a fall of less than 6 feet. She determined that the cause of death of blunt force trauma and that the method was homicide.

Dr. Qumar Zaman, the pediatrician who attended to Kane the night he was brought in to the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital emergency room, also testified that the child’s condition was critical condition by the time he was examined.


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.