Crime

Defense in ‘Justice For Kane’ trial says murder can’t be proved, verdict expected Tuesday

Judge Dennis Doyle should consider finding Gyasi Campbell guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of 2-year-old Kane Friess-Wylie, not murder, says Campbell’s defense lawyer Justin A. Kuehn.

On Monday morning, the first-degree murder trial against Campbell continued with Kuehn and the prosecution, led by Assistant State’s Attorneys Bernadette Schrempp and Judy Dalan, delivering closing arguments.

Doyle will deliver a verdict Tuesday morning at 9 a.m.

Last week, witnesses that included doctors who treated Kane, experts who determined his manner of death to be homicide and Kane’s mother, Lindsey Friess, testified about what happened the night of April 13, 2017, when Kane was left in the care of his mom’s live-in boyfriend, Campbell. The defense did not call any witnesses after Campbell chose not to testify.

Schrempp and Dalan argued Monday that there is enough evidence to convict Campbell of the first-degree murder charge, which is defined in Illinois law as intending to kill or do great bodily harm to another, knowing the act would cause death, without lawful justification.

The prosecution took several factors into account before bringing the first-degree murder charge, Schrempp said. That included the three different versions of events that Campbell gave to Friess, doctors and police, as well as the lack of an urgent response and the extent of the toddler’s injuries.

“There is no reason to lie to the pediatrician that’s in the best position to save Kane unless (Campbell) is lying to protect himself,” Schrempp said.

Campbell told Dr. Qumar Zaman in the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital emergency room that Kane had fallen inside of the bathtub.

Schrempp played part of a recorded conversation between Friess and Campbell where Campbell told the boy’s mother that Kane “didn’t fall at all” in the bathroom. Later in the conversation, which was played for 45 minutes last week, Campbell told Friess the toddler fell off the kitchen table when Campbell wasn’t looking.

The prosecution provided a narrative of what could have happened: that Campbell was alone caring for Kane and his sister, Arabella, that night and he started to stress out when it came to caring for both kids. Schrempp suggested the toddler could have resisted to taking the bath because the diaper rash he had would cause him to cry out in pain—Kane’s father, Teague Wylie Jr., testified last week that the toddler protested at bath time when he had diaper rash. The forensic pathologist who performed Kane’s autopsy also testified that the toddler had a diaper rash at the time of his death.

She suggested that during the struggle, Campbell could “strike or slam” Kane’s head very hard, causing immediate traumatic injuries, and that he didn’t realize how serious the situation was, so he lied about it.

Schrempp argued that intent can be formed really quickly and that any person who strikes a child knows that it’s likely to cause great bodily harm.

“Kane cannot tell us what happened to him, but his body does tell us,” she said.

Schrempp said that the defendant claimed he loved Kane, but that sometimes people kill those that they love.

“This was not an accident, this was child abuse,” she said.

Kuehn, however, told the court that the prosecution cannot prove Campbell killed Kane beyond a reasonable doubt.

“The state’s case is built on supposition upon supposition,” he said.

Kuehn argued that none of the experts the prosecution called could testify to how exactly Kane sustained his fatal injuries or what Campbell’s mental state was like at the time. He said no one really knows the truth except for Campbell, as he was the only adult there when Kane was injured.

“Where’s the evidence?” Kuehn asked of the prosecution’s argument. “It’s not my duty to disprove that (Campbell) didn’t do something, it’s the state’s responsibility to prove he did beyond a reasonable doubt.”

That’s why Kuehn suggested Doyle consider convicting Campbell of involuntary manslaughter, which requires only that a person recklessly performed the acts causing an individual’s death. He said he thinks that Kane’s death was an accident.

“The stars aligned in the perfect disastrous manner to cause Kane’s injuries,” he said.

In June, Campbell waived his right to a jury trial St. Clair County Court Circuit Judge Zina Cruse was originally assigned to the case, but recused herself from it in November 2018. No reason was given. Doyle was assigned in her place.

Trial recap

TUESDAY:

The court heard testimony from Kane’s mom, Lindsey Friess, who said she left her son in the care of Campbell, her live-in boyfriend, when she went to a friend’s house for dinner.

Friess said that Campbell told her via text he would give Kane a bath and put him to bed. When she came home a few hours later, Campbell was cradling the toddler in a recliner. Friess said her son’s eyes “didn’t look right” and that he vomited moments after. After Campbell and the friend Friess was with couldn’t revive Kane, the decision was made to take him to the emergency room.

Ely, the medical examiner who performed Kane’s autopsy, testified on that the massive brain injury he had was inconsistent with a fall of less than 6 feet and determined that the manner of his death was homicide.

WEDNESDAY:

Doyle listened to testimony from Kane’s father, Teague Wylie Jr., that he’d never seen any bruises or injuries on the toddler during his frequent weekend visits. On the same day, Kane’s 6-year-old brother testified that Campbell had spanked him and his brother on at least one occasion.

The father also said that Kane sometimes came to him with diaper rash, and that he would cry at bath time when the warm water touched his backside. Ely had previously testified that Kane had diaper rash at the time of his death.

Testimony from both Friess and police officers who investigated the case focused on broken glass that Friess said she found in the apartment bathroom the day after Kane’s death, after crime scene technicians had already been through the house.

Friess called Sgt. Jamie Brunnworth of the Illinois State Police to tell her that she’d found the glass and that she was missing a red candle that’s usually in the bathroom. Brunnworth testified that she and other police officers searched the trash in the apartment and in the building’s Dumpster, but were unable to find anything related to the case.

THURSDAY:

Dr. Philippe Mercier, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Cardinal Glennon Hospital, testified that he operated on Kane the night he came in with a “catastrophic” traumatic brain injury. He told the court that the surgery lasted about an hour, and when the toddler’s heart stopped, they performed aggressive CPR in an attempt to revive him.

Kane was pronounced dead at 11:44 p.m. on April 13.

When the defense lawyers asked Mercier if it was possible the bruises on Kane’s body could have been the result of intubation, IVs and the aggressive CPR he received, Mercier said it “absolutely” could.

FRIDAY:

Dr. MariaTeresa Tersigni-Tarrant, a forensic anthropologist who examined Kane’s bones following his death, testified that there was only one fracture on the toddler’s body—a fracture in the occipital bone on the back of the skull that was caused at or near his time of death. She said there were no old or healing fractures on his body.

Because the fracture went all the way through the occipital bone—the strongest, thickest, most protected bone of the skull, she said—it had to have been caused by blunt force. Though Tersigni-Tarrant could not determine what object caused the fracture, she said “this fracture is not consistent with an accidental type of fall.”

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.

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.
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