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Trial set in murder of dismembered 2-year-old found in Garfield Park Lagoon

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.

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

A May trial date has been set in the murder of a 2-year-old Rockford boy whose body parts were found in the Garfield Park Lagoon.

After a proposed plea deal fell apart amid complaints from the toddler’s family, Kamel Harris is set to go on trial May 15 for the 2015 murder and dismemberment of Kyrian Knox.

Harris and prosecutors last month seemed poised to end the case with a guilty plea to reduced charges and a sentence far shorter than what Harris would face if convicted on counts of murder, concealing a homicidal death and dismemberment of a corpse.

At a hearing last month, Judge Timothy Joyce said he would hold a full sentencing hearing in open court before deciding on a sentence if Harris pleaded guilty.

“That’s not a risk Mr. Harris is willing to take,” Harris’ lawyer, Kulmeet Galhotra, told the judge Wednesday.

Kamel Harris

Kamel Harris | Chicago Police photo

The breakdown of the plea deal came as good news to Kyrian’s grandmother, Cameshia Harris, who flew in from her home in Atlanta last month to attend the hearing after learning Harris’ plea deal could have seen him serve fewer than nine years in prison.

“You’re going to tell me he could whup my grandson, kill him, and cut him up, and do that much time?” Cameshia Harris said in a phone interview Wednesday. Cameshia Harris is not related to Kamel Harris.

Lawyers in the case declined to talk about specifics of the tentative plea agreement.

After taking care of the boy for about two weeks in August 2015, prosecutors said Kamel Harris “snapped” when Kyrian, who was lactose intolerant, was given milk and had cried for hours on end.

Harris, who had relatives who lived near the Garfield Park Lagoon, allegedly brought the child’s body back to the city, dismembered it and put the body parts in separate plastic bags tied to dumbbells. In early September, a 911 caller reported seeing the toddler’s foot floating in the lagoon. Police found the boy’s left and right hands floating in the water, then drained the lagoon and found torn bags knotted to weights, and a weighted bag still holding the toddler’s head.

Harris, who had been arrested in Rockford for assaulting a state child welfare officer, allegedly confessed to killing Kyrian in the presence of several jail inmates. Galhotra said Wednesday that the defense will challenge their testimony, and wants to know whether those inmates were offered anything by police or prosecutors in Winnebago County in exchange for testifying against Harris.

Harris also has challenged the validity of testing that allegedly showed Kyrian’s blood was found spattered inside a Camaro that Harris allegedly used to drive the body to Chicago.

Kyrian was the son of a friend of Harris’ daughter, whose child was the same age as Kyrian.

In August 2015, Harris said the two young women left their toddlers with Harris at his home in Rockford while they went to Iowa to look for a place to live. Days later, a woman and a man in a van stopped by Harris’ home and said they had come to pick up Kyrian and take him to his mother. He said he only learned the boy was missing weeks later, when his daughter said she and her friend were coming back to Rockford to get the children.

Kyrian Knox

Kyrian Knox | Rockford police