The 6-year-old brother of Kane Friess-Wylie testified on Wednesday morning at the first-degree murder trial of Gyasi Campbell, that the man accused of killing his sibling spanked both of them when their mother wasn’t home.
The boy told Judge Dennis Doyle that Campbell, his mom Lindsey Friess’ live-in boyfriend during the time of Kane’s death, had previously spanked him and his then-2-year-old brother on at least one occasion.
Doyle ordered spectators to clear the courtroom when the boy was called to take the stand. During his testimony, Assistant St. Clair County State’s Attorney Judy Dalan had to ask the child to repeat himself and to speak up several times. He sometimes replied that he was tired and didn’t remember or didn’t know the answer to many of Dalan’s questions.
On several occasions, Kuehn objected to the line of questioning, since the child sometimes gave conflicting answers.
Assistant State’s Attorney Bernadette Schrempp, Campbell, and Campbell’s defense lawyer, Justin A. Kuehn, remained in the room. Media also were allowed to witness the boy’s testimony.
Earlier that morning, Friess was cross-examined by the defense, and said she never spanked her children as punishment and had never seen Campbell do so either. In fact, she said, Campbell tended to favor Kane, who she described as a sweet and innocent toddler. When he learned of Kane’s death at Cardinal Glennon Hospital in St. Louis, Friess said Campbell fell to his knees and wailed with grief.
Friess testified that when she arrived home on the night of Kane’s death, April 13, 2017, she made sure to feel around the boy’s head to see if there were any bumps or bruises. She said she did not see any red marks, blood or swelling on his body either.
Kane’s father, Teague Wylie Jr., was also called as a witness for the prosecution. He testified that he regularly got to have Kane on the weekends, from Thursday through Sunday, and that he didn’t recall seeing the toddler come over with any injuries.
Wylie said that Kane would occasionally come home with diaper rash, and the toddler would “cry in pain” when he had to bathe “and the water touched his butt.” At least once, he took Kane to see a doctor about the rash.
On Tuesday, Dr. Erin Ely, the forensic pathologist who conducted Kane’s autopsy, said the child had a diaper rash the night he was killed. He’d been left in the care of Campbell when Friess went to a friend’s house for dinner. Campbell had told Friess via text that he was going to give Kane a bath before putting him to bed.
According to Friess’ testimony on Tuesday, Campbell’s account of what happened to cause Kane’s injuries has varied at least three times. At first, Campbell told her the child had slipped out of the bathtub and onto the bathroom floor. Then, at Cardinal Glennon that night, he told a social worker Kane had fallen in the bathtub.
Finally, when in police custody at St. Clair County Jail, Campbell broke down and told Friess in a recorded phone conversation that Kane had fallen off a table in the couple’s living room.
“I didn’t see him fall, but I would have prevented that from happening if I could,” Campbell said in a recorded conversation.
Campbell was charged with first-degree murder in Kane’s death in December 2017. Friess has maintained contact with him since her son’s death, but said they are not still together as a couple. On Wednesday, she told the court that Campbell “showed he cared” by taking measures to attempt to revive Kane when the toddler was unresponsive the night of his death.
On Tuesday, Ely, the forensic pathologist, told the court that Kane’s fatal injuries were not consistent with the story Campbell and Friess had told police. She said that the toddler had a traumatic brain injury—one that is usually seen in people who have been in high-velocity car crashes, have fallen from a significant height or have been abused. She concluded that Kane’s manner of death was homicide.
Ely said there was 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.
The prosecution’s other final witnesses on Wednesday included Special Agent Travis Irwin and Sgt. Jamie Brunnworth, both members of the Illinois State Police who serve on the Southern Illinois Child Death Investigation Task Force.
Much of Brunnworth’s testimony focused on broken glass that Friess said she found in the apartment bathroom the day after Kane’s death, after police and crime scene technicians had left it. Brunnworth said Friess called her right after finding the glass, and told her she was missing a red candle that is usually in the bathroom. Brunnworth said that she and other police officers searched the apartment trash and the building’s Dumpster, but were unable to find anything of value.
The murder trial will continue Thursday morning.
Campbell in June waived his right to a jury trial. St. Clair County Circuit Judge Zina Cruse originally was assigned to try the case, but recused herself in November of 2018. No reason was given. Doyle, a Monroe County judge, was assigned in her place.
BEHIND OUR REPORTING
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.