Families, lawyers in ‘Justice For Kane’ trial react to judge’s verdict

After Judge Dennis Doyle decided Gyasi Campbell was guilty of involuntary manslaughter, not murder, in the death of 2-year-old Kane Friess-Wylie, there was an emotional reaction in St. Clair County.

The high profile first-degree murder trial captured the attention of many in the metro-east, 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.

Campbell’s defense lawyer, Justin A. Kuehn, said the case was challenging, “from both a legal and emotional standpoint.”

“I know that my sympathies are surely hollow, but my heart goes out to everyone who is pained by this verdict,” he said.

Kuehn also thanked his partner, Derek Siegel, who argued on Campbell’s behalf during the trial.

Assistant State’s Attorneys Bernadette Schrempp and Judy Dalan led the prosecution against Campbell. He was charged with the first-degree murder when it was alleged that he caused a fatal traumatic brain injury to the toddler on April 13, 2017. The prosecution argued that Campbell knew his acts could cause death or great bodily harm to Kane.

In closing arguments on Monday, Kuehn suggested the judge instead consider an involuntary manslaughter charge, which requires proof only that a person recklessly performed acts causing an individual’s death.

Kane’s grandfather, Teague Wylie, said that he 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.”

Campbell faces a potential sentence of 3 to 14 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections for the case. Probation is available for the charge. He was taken into custody by police and quickly ushered out of the courtroom. Doyle revoked his bond pending further proceedings. His sentencing date has been set for September 25 in St. Clair County Court.

State’s Attorney James A. Gomric said his office will continue to prosecute difficult cases, especially those involving a child victim.

“Although we maintain our submission that Campbell is guilty as originally charged, we respect the determination of the court,” he said in a statement. “In addition, we appreciate the hard work and attention given to the evidence by the court.”

The State’s Attorney’s Office declined to comment further.

Before announcing his verdict, Doyle said this was the best tried case he’d ever 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.

Supporters, family react to verdict

Outside of the courtroom immediately after the verdict was read, friends and family of Kane’s mother, Lindsey Friess, and father, Teague Wylie Jr., wept as they comforted each other.

“It’s better than not guilty,” one person wearing a #JusticeForKane shirt said with her arm around another.

Friess lifted the hood of the black sweatshirt she was wearing and had sunglasses covering her face as she cried.

Later, she said, “I’m 100 percent satisfied with how the state made its case and I respect Judge Doyle. Both sides did an amazing job shedding light on things I didn’t know or was confused about.”

“I did what I was told to do and went up there and told the truth,” she said.

As observers of the trial were leaving the courthouse, a brief verbal argument started between Campbell’s friends and family and Kane’s friends and family outside of the fourth floor elevators. A St. Clair County Sheriff’s deputy had to intervene.

On social media, reactions to the verdict were even stronger.

One relative referred to Campbell using a racial slur on a Facebook post. A supporter of Campbell commented on Facebook that he’s glad the trial is over so he “can get on these white people ass.”

“This has nothing to do with race and everything to do with justice for Kane,” Lauren Elbe, a friend of Wylie’s, said.

Many of Kane’s supporters expressed their frustration with St. Clair County and the judge, commenting on Facebook that the “crooked” justice system failed the toddler.

Some of Campbell’s friends and family commented on Facebook that they were praying for him to come home soon.


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.

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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.