After a seven-day trial, Judge Dennis Doyle declared Gyasi Campbell guilty of involuntary manslaughter, a lesser charge than first-degree murder sought by St. Clair County prosecutors in the death of 2-year-old Kane Friess-Wylie in 2017.
The courtroom remained quiet as Doyle read the verdict. Campbell faces a possible sentence of 3 to 14 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. Probation is also possible. His sentencing has been set for Sept. 25.
Campbell was taken into custody and ushered out of the courtroom by police officers. Doyle revoked his bond pending further proceedings.
Outside the courtroom, family members of Lindsey Friess, Kane’s mother, and Teague Wylie Jr., Kane’s father, wept as they discussed the decision.
“It’s better than not guilty,” said one person wearing a #JusticeForKane T-shirt as they comforted another.
Friess lifted the hood of the black sweatshirt she was wearing and had sunglasses covering her face as she cried.
Campbell’s friends and family quickly left the St. Clair County Courthouse, but not before a brief argument started between them and Kane’s supporters outside of the fourth floor elevators. A St. Clair County Sheriff’s deputy had to intervene.
Belleville police and St. Clair County deputies were stationed at every corner of the courthouse and Public Square. Officers were also posted on almost every floor of courthouse’s parking garage to make sure everyone left safely.
One man shouted at sheriff’s deputies from his car, “That’s my baby that got killed.”
During closing arguments Monday, Campbell’s defense lawyer Justin A. Kuehn argued that the prosecution, led by St. Clair County Assistant State’s Attorneys Bernadette Schrempp and Judy Dalan, could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Campbell intended to kill. He suggested the charge against his client should have instead been involuntary manslaughter.
With a first-degree murder charge, the prosecution had to prove that Campbell intended to kill or do great bodily harm to Kane, knowing the act would cause death. An involuntary manslaughter charge instead requires proof that a person recklessly performed acts causing an individual’s death.
The prosecution had argued that due to the extent of the toddler’s injuries, the lack of an urgent response by Campbell and the three different stories he gave to police and doctors proved that Kane was not killed as the result of an accident. Schrempp argued that intent can be formed quickly and that any person who strikes a child knows that it’s likely to cause great bodily harm.
During closing arguments, Schrempp proposed a narrative of what could have happened the night Kane and his sister, Arabella, were left alone in Campbell’s care.
Schrempp theorized that the toddler may have resisted to taking a bath because the diaper rash he had would cause him to cry out in pain. Kane’s father 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.
Schrempp suggested that during the struggle, Campbell could have struck or slammed 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.
Kuehn, who called no witnesses in Campbell’s defense, argued that the prosecutor failed to prove the premeditated intent required for a first-degree murder verdict. He suggested the lesser charge to the judge.
Teague Wylie, Kane’s grandfather, said he had read the definition for involuntary manslaughter and that he doesn’t believe Kane’s death was accidental. He said his family has been stressing for 2 1/2 years.
“That’s a whole child’s life,” he said. “(Campbell) knew what he was doing.”
The high profile first-degree murder trial captured the attention of many in St. Clair County, prompting the hashtag #JusticeForKane to pop up on social media and on lawn signs.
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.
Doyle said this was the best tried case he’d seen, and thanked the spectators who had attended the trial every day.
“I know this was a difficult case for all of you,” he said.
Here is a recap of the weeklong trial in Belleville:
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.
Dr. Erin 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.
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.
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.
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.