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Murder trial opens in gruesome death, dismemberment of 2-year-old

A police officer searches along the shoreline of the lagoon in Garfield Park for evidence after body parts from a toddler were recently discovered in the water on Sept. 9, 2015. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Kamel Harris seemed like a nice enough guy in the few hours Tanisha Knox had spent with him before she left her 2-year-old son, Kyrian, at Harris’ crowded Rockford apartment for what was supposed to be a few weeks in August 2015. Knox and Harris’ daughter, a childhood friend and fellow single mom, were headed to find jobs and an apartment in Iowa and expected to be back for their toddlers in a few weeks.

Kyrian Knox | Rockford police
Kyrian Knox | Rockford police

Knox would never see her child again, she testified Tuesday at the start of Harris’ trial for killing Kyrian, dismembering the child and putting the body parts in a weighted shopping bag and heaving them into the Garfield Park Lagoon.

Knox was composed for most of the more than two hours she spent on the witness stand, breaking down only when Assistant State’s Attorney Andreana Turano asked her if she had heard about reports of the grisly discovery in the lagoon that came weeks before police identified the body parts as her son’s.

“I had heard about it before I talked to detectives,” Knox said, pausing to wipe away tears.

“Did you have any thoughts about it?” Turano asked.

“No,” Knox said, sniffling.

For his part, Harris sat placidly through the first day of testimony, and his lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Julie Koehler said Harris would take the witness stand himself to explain that weeks before Knox announced she was returning for her son, Harris had given Kyrian and a duffel bag of toys and clothing to people who showed up at his Rockford home and said they had come to take the child to his mother.

“(Knox) didn’t meet a deranged individual, a psycho that would chop up a child and discard him in a lagoon,” Koehler said in an opening statement. “Lanisha met Kamel, met the family, and didn’t have any hesitation … he’s not the type of man that would do something like this.”

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

Harris only reported Knox missing to police in Rockford after his girlfriend got a call from Knox stating that she was coming to pick the boy up. Harris told police that in late August, a man in a burgundy SUV showed up with two women passengers, and that the toddler greeted the man with a hug.

Prosecutors say that Harris told a different story to inmates who were locked up with him at the Winnebago County Jail, and that Harris “snapped” and killed the child in a fit of rage. Koehler pointed to what she said was a more likely suspect, Kyrian’s estranged father, who had threatened to take the child during a series of angry text messages with Lanisha Knox while Knox was in Iowa.

A dozen of Kyrian’s relatives were seated in the gallery opposite the jury Wednesday, and many teared up as a courtroom monitor showed images of the child’s body parts taken by police who trawled the lagoon. The trial is set to resume Wednesday.