By Annabelle Knef
“Justice for Kane” signs have been popping up in areas across the county. Lori Friess of Belleville wants everyone to know the heart-wrenching story behind those signs both as a part of her grieving process.
Friess’s grandson Kane Wiley-Friess died at age two as a result of two skull fractures on April 13, 2017. The child’s mother’s boyfriend, Gyasi Campbell, 24, was indicted in January – eight months after Kane’s death – and charged with first-degree murder, court records indicate.
What has Friess outraged is a judge’s ruling on April 2, 2018, nearly one year after Kane’s death which reduced Campbell’s bail from $1 million to $150,000 – of which he only needed to post ten percent of the bail, or $15,000, to be released while awaiting trial. Court records indicate that trial is set to begin on January 7, 2019.
Circuit Judge Zina Cruse
The judge who has presided over Campbell’s criminal case and reduced his bail is Circuit Judge Zina Cruse of the 20th Judicial Circuit.
Friess said she began a grass roots movement, in which she now has nearly 12,000 followers on a Facebook page called “Justice for Kane”, to honor Kane by sharing his story and holding the judge who drastically reduced Campbell’s bail, accountable.
“First and foremost it’s to get his story out there,” Friess said. “What happened was sickening to me. The fact that the gentleman accused of doing this is happy and having a great life – he’s not in jail because of the judge.”
Friess said she finds it “pathetic” how Cruse reduced the bond based on what she referred to as “a few character references.”
“She should’ve looked into the people who were giving the character letters before reducing the man’s bond,” Friess said.
One character reference for Campbell came from Friess’s daughter, Kane’s mother, Lindsey Friess.
Lindsey Friess wrote a three-page letter to the judge on behalf of Campbell. It reads, in part, “I believe there’s a proper charge and sentence for the death of my son and I do not believe first-degree murder is that charge.”
Friess described her daughter as “very unstable.”
As she was reading her daughter’s letter, Friess said that she thought “surely this is somebody else because from the beginning to the end it has been nothing but lies.”
Friess said that her daughter is still in a relationship with the accused murderer of Kane.
“I personally think the man is using her for everything he can get out of her to make it look like they’re a happy family and that she supports him,” Friess said. “I don’t know if she’s scared to death of him.”
Lindsey Friess has two other children – her oldest son is named Eli, whom she had with Travis Crouse. She had youngest daughter Arabella with Campbell and Kane with Teague Jr. (T.J.) Wylie.
The Justice for Kane organization is now considered a non-profit, with a benefit being planned for September 29.
“It’s an unbelievable response in how many people are falling in love with Kane and want him to get justice on their own,” Friess said. “The outpour from the community with donations is unbelievable.”
“I thought if I could raise $100 I’m doing something. I have a huge feeling it’s going to be more of that,” she said.
Friess said all of the money collected through the event will go to the St. Clair County Child Advocacy Organization in Belleville.
When Friess goes to court hearings she said it’s a terrible reminder that Kane is gone, “and he’s never coming back.”
“When I do these benefits, he’s still alive and his memory is still alive. It’s something I need to do for him and for myself.”
Friess said the movement needs to “conquer” the five counties that Cruse presides over, including St. Clair, Randolph, Monroe, Perry, and Washington counties, in order to get the judge unseated. Cruse is seeking retention in the November election and must receive an affirmative vote totaling 60 percent or more of the ballots cast.
“This woman has a history of letting these criminals off. I don’t understand how she’s getting away with this,” Friess said. “They waited until the one year anniversary of Kane’s death to bail [Campbell] out of jail. That was another slap in the face.”
The O’Fallon Weekly contacted Judge Cruse’s office, but our requests for comment were not answered.
Friess said she has stopped going to pre-trial conferences.
“I cannot take seeing him. It takes every ounce of energy out of me. All of my good thoughts. When I see him, it just goes out the window,” she said.
She said she will attend the trial but it’s not something she’s looking forward to.
“I can only imagine what’s going to be brought up. It plays over in my head constantly – what my grandson went through for those three hours that he was alone with this monster,” Friess said.
Campbell’s story about what happened with Kane has changed several times, from which room the injury took place to how the injury was sustained, Friess said.
According to the medical examiner, Kane had two skull fractures, which were not injuries that were consistent with Campbell’s original story.
With apparent emotion, Friess described how she thinks Kane should be remembered.
“Kane was such a lover. He loved giving hugs, he was just so sweet. His blue eyes would light up a room. He loved his brother and sister. He just adored them,” Friess said.
“He didn’t get a real chance to be around his sister, Arabella, but he did with his older brother Eli. They were 16 months apart. I had such big plans for them,” she said.
Friess said that she doesn’t communicate much with Kane’s father and paternal grandparents, apart from collaboration at vigils and court dates.
“T.J. (Kane’s father) is really quiet. I know he’s having a difficult time with this. I know it has to hurt him every day waking up. He’s been quiet throughout all of this and keeping to himself but I think about him every day.”
Friess’s mother passed away Christmas day in 2016, only three months before her grandson died.
“I have no clue how I’m doing this. People ask me every day how I’m doing this and say that I’m their inspiration and a strong person. My mother raised me to be a strong person and not to give up and quit,” Friess said.