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Man found not guilty of murdering, dismembering toddler found in Garfield Park Lagoon

Kamel Harris was the last witness called in a six-day trial at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.

Kamel Harris
Kamel Harris leaves the Leighton Criminal Courthouse late Thursday after being found not guilty of murdering 2-year-old Kyrian Knox.
Courtesy CBS 2

A Rockford man was acquitted Thursday in the 2015 murder of 2-year-old Kyrian Knox, a toddler whose body parts were found floating in the Garfield Park Lagoon on the West Side.

Kamel Harris, 44, leaned forward in his seat as the Cook County jury forewoman read the verdicts on each of the counts against him; his forehead hit the table in front of him with a soft thud as the last not-guilty was announced. As the verdict on the first count — first-degree murder — was read, the boy’s mother, Lanisha Knox, let out a wail. She then rose from her seat and walked out before the final verdict was read.

Harris, who had only a handful of relatives attend the trial, did not appear to have any supporters in the gallery as the verdict was read.

Outside the courthouse, Knox was blunt.

“That was some bulls—t,” she said. “I can’t believe this.”

Kyrian Knox | Photo courtesy ABC7 Chicago
Kyrian Knox | Photo courtesy ABC7 Chicago
Sun-Times file photo

When leaving the courthouse late Thursday night, Harris had little to say to the press. When a reporter asked if it felt good to be out, he said, “absolutely.”

Jurors deliberated around nine hours over two days, and were escorted out of the courthouse by sheriff’s deputies and led away on a waiting bus Thursday.

Harris had been the last witness called Wednesday during the six-day trial at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse. He testified that he had been babysitting his grandson and Kyrian in his Rockford apartment while his daughter and Knox were looking for jobs in Iowa.

Harris said a man and two women came to his house, saying they were there to pick up Kyrian for his mother. Harris, who had met Knox only one or two times before, said the man handed him a cellphone and Harris spoke to a woman who said she was Knox. Afterward, Harris turned over Kyrian to the group. Harris said he was stunned when his daughter called two weeks later, and said she and Knox were coming to pick up the kids.

Prosecutors said that after two weeks minding Kyrian and other children, Harris killed Kyrian in a fit of rage, then chopped up the body and tossed at least some of the parts into the lagoon. Kyrian’s hands, feet and head were found in the lagoon over Labor Day weekend in 2015. The boy’s torso, arms and legs were never recovered, and a medical examiner testified that a cause of death could not be determined.

Kamel Harris | Chicago Police photo
Kamel Harris | Chicago Police photo

Prosecutors in February had reached an agreement in which Harris would plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and receive a sentence of around seven years, but the deal broke down after Kyrian’s family protested. Under the deal, Harris would have spent around two years in jail, on top of the nearly three years he had been locked up awaiting trial, said his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Kulmeet Galhotra.

“This is an innocent man. The guy who did this is still out there,” Galhotra said after court Thursday. “Taking a plea was a calculation he made, because he thought he could do two more years, when the risk was doing the rest of his life in prison if he was found guilty.”

That left prosecutors to present a case to jurors that was built largely on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of three jailhouse informants, who claimed Harris confessed to them that he “snapped” and killed Kyrian in a fit of rage, then took the body to Chicago to dump it in the lagoon. Harris’ lawyers called another inmate, who testified that those informants had confided that they were making up incriminating conversations with Harris in hopes prosecutors would reduce their sentences in exchange for the fabricated tips.

Harris was expected to leave the Cook County Jail Thursday.