Rylee Marie Gray (Courtesy the Gazette)

Rylee Marie Gray (Courtesy the Gazette)

Rylee Marie Gray


Rylee Marie Gray
1614 Park Towne Ln. NE
Cedar Rapids, IA
Linn County
Date of Crime: December 23, 1994
Date of Death: December 25, 1994


Two-year-old Rylee M. Gray was taken to St. Lukes Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at 8:48 a.m. on Dec. 23, 1994, suffering from injuries to her head, buttocks, and extremities.

Linn County in Iowa
Linn County in Iowa
Cedar Rapids in Linn CountyCedar Rapids in Linn County

The comatose little girl was brought in by her mother, Elise Gray, and Gray’s boyfriend, Matthew Lewis. Lewis carried the child into the hospital.

Doctors discovered the toddler had a subdural hematoma and brain swelling, and despite last-ditch medical surgery that removed 10 percent of her brain, died on Christmas Day.

According to Dr. Keith Krewer, the pathologist who performed Rylee’s autopsy, the 35-pound, 35-inch child’s head injuries were likely caused by both violent shaking and by having her head struck, smashed into something or injured when she was thrown down.

Investigators arrested Matthew Lewis and charged him with Rylee’s death, but he was later acquitted by a Linn County District Court jury.

The following articles (linking to PDF documents, listed in chronological order) provide a brief overview from the time of Rylee’s arrival at the hospital up until Lewis’ acquittal.

Testimony cites abuse in C.R.’s toddler’s death

The Gazette (Cedar Rapids-Iowa City) – Thursday, November 16, 1995
Author: Rick Smith, Gazette staff writer

All-crucial in Matthew Lewis’ first-degree murder trial is time.

Matthew Lee Lewis (Courtesy the Gazette)

Matthew Lee Lewis (Courtesy the Gazette)

Will the sometimes-conflicting testimony of medical experts be able to prove that 2-year-old Rylee Gray’s head injury happened in the window of at-most 30 minutes the morning of Dec. 23 when her mother went to the store for milk and left the child alone with Lewis?

A University of Iowa medical expert who believes he can do just such pinpointing testifies today.

What was made clear Wednesday, in the second day of trial testimony in Linn County District Court, is this:

Rylee – all 35 pounds and 35 inches of her – had been abused, her head injury likely caused by both violent shaking and by having her head struck, smashed into something or injured when she was thrown down.

That disturbing conclusion, by Dr. Keith Krewer, the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Rylee, ended the testimony Wednesday of a line of five Cedar Rapids physicians.

All provided grim medical details about the child’s injury and the futile efforts to keep her alive as her brain swelled, jammed itself against the skull and then lost its blood supply to stay alive.

The child died Christmas Day, on her third comatose day at St. Luke’s Hospital and despite last-ditch medical surgery that removed 10 percent of her brain.

Lewis, an oft-unemployed 23-year-old from Cedar Rapids, has been jailed since Dec. 28 on a charge of first-degree murder in Rylee’s death.

Iowa law does not require Prosecutor Todd Tripp to prove Lewis acted with premeditation, usually an element of first-degree murder.

In Iowa it also is first-degree murder if someone dies during the commission of a forcible felony. Tripp alleges Rylee died when Lewis committed the forcible felony of child endangerment.

According to testimony:

Lewis came into Rylee’s life just in the month before she died.

He met Rylee’s mother, Elise Gray, at a bar in November 1994, took her to his northeast Cedar Rapids apartment and then set up house there with her and Rylee two days later.

By the morning of Dec. 23, Rylee twice had had falls, once in a bathtub five days earlier and once from a crib a couple of days later, the couple later told physicians.

At 8:48 a.m. Dec. 23, the couple arrived at the emergency room, a comatose Rylee being carried by Lewis.

Almost immediately, a team of four physicians and specialists determined the child likely had been the victim of abuse.

Brain scans indicated that trauma to the right side of her head was serious and likely consistent with shaken-baby syndrome.

In the trial’s first day of testimony, Lewis’ defense attorneys attempted to point the blame at Rylee’s mother, portraying her as a poor parent and a mother who did not grieve after her child’s death. She cared for Rylee for all but a 30-minute-or-less period of time in the crucial hours before the child’s injury, defense attorneys have argued.

On Wednesday, though, it was Lewis’ demeanor after the child’s injury that was called into question by Rylee’s pediatrician.

Dr. Mark Reinertson, who spoke with Lewis and Gray in the emergency room on Dec. 23, testified that Lewis’ behavior was “unusually matter-of-fact” and “orchestrated.”

Lewis had much to say, while the child’s mother was quiet, Reinertson said.

Dr. Loren Mouw, the child’s neurosurgeon, also testified to his surprise when Lewis volunteered new information about Rylee in the early morning of her second day in the hospital.

Lewis, said Mouw, reported that he had forgotten to say that any injury to Rylee’s neck might stem from a stuffed animal inadvertently wrapped around her neck when he found her unresponsive in her crib. No stuffed animal contributed to Rylee’s injuries, the neurosurgeon said.

Copyright (c) 1995, 2000 Cedar Rapids Gazette

Mom told murder suspect of plan to move out 1 day before tot hurt — C.R. man accused of murdering girl, 2

The Gazette (Cedar Rapids-Iowa City) – Friday, December 30, 1994
Author: Becky Stover and Lynn M. Tefft, Gazette staff writers

Rylee Marie Gray, is associated with the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, not St. Luke’s, as was reported Friday. This is the end of the correction.

Courtesy the Gazette

Courtesy the Gazette, Dec. 30, 1994

A Cedar Rapids man is accused of fatally injuring a 2-year-old girl the day after her mother told him she was moving out of the apartment they had shared for five weeks.

Matthew Lee Lewis, 22, of 1614 Park Towne Lane NE, was charged Thursday with first-degree murder in the death of Rylee Marie Gray, the daughter of his girlfriend, Elise Gray, 21.

Rylee died of head injuries Sunday morning, two days after she was rushed to St. Luke’s Hospital by her mother and Lewis, court records said.

The funeral for Rylee was held Thursday in Monticello. Elise’s father, Don Gray of Central City, said last night that the large, close-knit family is in shock.

“To think one day we saw Rylee as her normal full-of-life self, up and running around, and then this,” he said. He declined comment on the case except to say, “This charge never would have been filed if the police weren’t absolutely sure about it.”

According to the Linn County Attorney’s Office, Rylee was unconscious and unresponsive when she arrived at St. Luke’s Hospital the morning of Dec. 23 with injuries to her head, extremities and buttocks.

A brain scan showed Rylee was suffering from a subdural hematoma and brain swelling. She was taken to emergency surgery and remained in critical condition until she died.

The injury appeared to be caused by a severe blow to the head, according to Cedar Rapids police Capt. Glen Fox. An autopsy revealed the child died of brain injuries.

Wilbur Smith, pediatric radiologist at St. Luke’s, concluded that the injuries were caused by trauma not related to a normal childhood injury.

Lewis remained in the Linn County Jail last night under $1 million bond. His preliminary hearing was set for Jan. 6.

He had been questioned Wednesday night and was arrested early Thursday morning. He told detectives that he did not strike the child, the Linn County Attorney’s Office said.

According to court documents, Gray said Lewis was upset when she told him Dec. 22 that she was moving out. Fox said Gray believed the injury to Rylee may have occurred when she left the toddler alone with Lewis for about half an hour the morning of Dec. 23.

The child had previously been injured when she was left alone with Lewis, court documents said.

Don Gray said Elise was planning to move back in with him, where she had lived for about two years before moving in with Lewis. He said he’d met Lewis a few times when Lewis had accompanied his daughter to the Central City house.

“He was pretty quiet,” he said. “He didn’t just start talking about himself.”

He added, however, that his daughter must have been very comfortable with Lewis to move in with him soon after they met.

“Now she’s absolutely devastated that someone she trusted would do this to her,” he said.

Lewis’ mother, Colleen Lewis of Cedar Rapids, said she doesn’t believe her son did what he’s been charged with. She said she believes Rylee’s death may have been caused by two falls she said the toddler took in the week prior to her death.

Colleen Lewis said that Rylee took a spill in the bathtub two days before she was taken to the hospital and that she fell out of a Portacrib and twisted her neck five days earlier.

“It has to be a combination of the two,” said Colleen Lewis, noting that may explain the two fractured vertebrae revealed by X-rays and the autopsy.

Don Gray said he doesn’t believe Rylee’s earlier spills contributed to her death.

“Obviously, the doctors didn’t think those were the cause of death,” he said. “Otherwise they wouldn’t have pursued it with the police.”

Don Gray said his granddaughter was an outgoing, happy child who was always laughing and smiling with those around her.

“I want people to know that this baby trusted everybody,” he said. “She had no fear of anyone.”

Colleen Lewis and her daughter, Lori Lewis, insisted that Lewis is not a violent person.

“He’s not a physical person,” said Lori Lewis. “We’ve never got in a fight in 19 years.”

Mindi Waite, who introduced Lewis and Gray, said she doesn’t think Lewis is capable of murder. She’s known him for three years.

Waite said Lewis, just a friend, lived with her for about six months two summers ago, and she never saw him become violent. In fact, she said her 4-year-old son recently listed Lewis as one of his two favorite people as part of a preschool activity.

Colleen Lewis said her son was alone with Rylee the morning of Dec. 23 long enough for Gray to go to the store for a gallon of milk and make a phone call. When Gray got home, she made breakfast and asked him to go up to her bedroom and get Rylee.

That’s when he found Rylee already comatose in her bed, Colleen Lewis said.

Lewis is unemployed, according to Waite. He was going to move in with some friends. The lease for the apartment Gray and Lewis were sharing is up Saturday, according to Colleen Lewis.

Elise was not working because she wanted to spend all her time with Rylee, Don Gray said.

“It used to bother me that Elise would start a job and not stick with it for very long,” he said. “In retrospect, I’m glad she got to spend so much time with Rylee.”

He said investigators told him that Elise, who is staying with friends, was never a suspect.

“For Elise, the way to stop Rylee from misbehaving was to tell her she had to sit still in a chair for a couple of minutes,” he said. “She was never physical with her.”

A check of court records showed Lewis has a prior record in both Linn and Jones counties. He is on probation for a third-degree theft charge from Jones County. He pleaded guilty July 22 to breaking into 10 to 15 vehicles in the Monticello area and taking items valued at under $1,000. He had all but 10 days of his 60-day sentence suspended, and he was placed on probation for a year.

His probation officer, Mike Skaggs, said Lewis “hadn’t been in for a while. He’s been on the lam.”

Lewis occasionally failed to keep appointments with him, Skaggs said. The Department of Correctional Services filed a report of a probation violation Nov. 3 and a warrant was issued Nov. 18, Skaggs said.

In Linn County, charges against Lewis included driving while barred and a few other traffic violations.

Copyright (c) 1994, 2000 Cedar Rapids Gazette

Mom grilled on tot’s death — Defense questions C.R. woman in murder trial of former boyfriend

The Gazette (Cedar Rapids-Iowa City) – Wednesday, November 15, 1995
Author: Rick Smith, Gazette staff writer

Only one may be charged, but two people seem to be on trial in Linn County this week to answer for the shaken-baby-syndrome death last Christmas of 2-year-old Rylee Gray.

Matthew Lewis, a 23-year-old, oft-unemployed Cedar Rapids man who was the short-term boyfriend of Rylee’s mother, is charged with first-degree murder in the baby’s death.

Until now, the boyish-looking Lewis has languished in jail since his arrest a week after Rylee died.

But on Tuesday at the hands of Lewis’ defense team in Linn County District Court, it was Rylee’s 21-year-old mother, Elise Gray, the prosecution’s first witness, who had the trial’s early explaining to do.

Defense attorneys Duane Rohovit and Faye Hoover-Grinde painted a picture of Gray as an immature and even promiscuous woman, a poor parent and a mother who did not grieve for a dead daughter.

The defense attorneys made it clear to jurors that detectives did not easily seem to give up on Gray as being culpable in the case. Hoover-Grinde noted that of the three rounds of interrogation by detectives, one lasted into the night and a second was prompted by a troubled funeral director who thought Gray acted “cold and indifferent” before and during Rylee’s funeral.

“I was in shock,” Gray testified, admitting that the funeral director had called detectives.

From the first to the second time Gray talked to detectives, she also fundamentally changed her story, she admitted.

The first story had her putting Rylee to bed at 10:30 p.m. Dec. 22 and checking on her twice through the night.

The true story, Gray said she subsequently told detectives, is that she and boyfriend Lewis fought, and he stormed out of his northeast Cedar Rapids apartment she had come to share. Then she awakened Rylee at 10:30 p.m. and headed out on a late- night drive to Lost Nation in hunt for an old boyfriend. Not finding him, she returned to Lewis’ apartment at about 3 a.m. and put her daughter to sleep.

Time lines will be crucial in the trial.

Gray, who now lives in Oxford Junction, and authorities maintain that Rylee was seriously injured later that morning, in a period of 20 to 30 minutes after 8 a.m. Dec. 23. That’s when Gray left Lewis and Rylee and went out to buy a gallon of milk and make a quick stop at a friend’s.

Rylee was rushed to the hospital that morning and died two days later.

Prosecutor Todd Tripp, assistant Linn County attorney, told jurors in opening statements that a University of Iowa medical expert will pinpoint the time of Rylee’s fatal injury to the short time Lewis was alone with the child in the apartment.

Defense attorney Rohovit ridiculed such a claim and said several other medical experts will testify that such precision is impossible.

Tripp told jurors that in November 1994, life seemed to be going well for Gray. She was living at home with her father, Don, in Central City and was working at a Cedar Rapids company where he worked. She loved her daughter and she had met a new boyfriend, Lewis, the prosecutor said.

But Tripp said Gray soon quit her job and the quick-moving relationship with Lewis began to sour. Gray began to worry about how Lewis was treating her daughter. Rylee began to shy away from him.

Gray testified that Lewis turned out to be a boyfriend who wanted to control her every move. He also often complained about how she cared for Rylee. Lewis wanted more disciplining, she said.

Defense attorney Hoover-Grinde shifted the focus to Gray. She had Gray admit that she went home with Lewis the first night she met him at a bar; that Gray and Rylee moved into Lewis’ apartment two days later; and that she forced her daughter to put up with two of Lewis’ “at-loose-ends” friends who crashed in the apartment for three weeks in December.

To Hoover-Grinde’s questioning, Gray also admitted that Lewis had cared for Rylee alone on several occasions without problem; that she had told detectives that Rylee had fallen in the bathtub at one point and that Lewis had reported a fall from the crib at another point; and that Gray was still with Lewis after the child’s funeral.

Just when Lewis was reading a pediatric medical manual given to Gray by her mother is a point of dispute.

Gray testified that Lewis was on their apartment couch reading from the manual when she returned after having gone out for milk and after Rylee apparently was injured.

Hoover-Grinde read an earlier sworn statement from Gray in which Gray said Lewis had begun to read the medical manual before she went out. Gray disputed her earlier recollection.

Much of the trial testimony ahead will be about how Rylee was injured, evidence that defense attorney Rohovit said mattered little.

That Rylee was murdered is not in dispute, he said.

“The only question is who did it, not whether it occurred,” he said.

Copyright (c) 1995, 2000 Cedar Rapids Gazette

Abuse expert, Lewis testify in Linn case

The Gazette (Cedar Rapids-Iowa City) – Friday, November 17, 1995
Author: Rick Smith, Gazette staff writer

Members of a Linn County District Court jury have heard from Matthew Lewis what his defense attorneys wanted them to hear – and little else.

Lewis, the 23-year-old Cedar Rapids man charged with murdering his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter, testified Thursday afternoon, sharing the high point of the day with a prominent University of Iowa medical expert.

Lewis, not required to testify, took the witness stand ostensibly to show jurors he is willing to take on all questions.

But one of his attorneys asked him just a few brief ones.

“No, I never harmed Rylee Gray,” said the chubby and boyish-looking Lewis.

In support of his attorneys’ argument that Rylee’s mother may have harmed her own child, Lewis then said he did not know if Rylee was injured when she returned to his apartment with her mother about 3 a.m. Dec. 23.

Rylee appeared to be sleeping on her mom’s shoulder, he testified, but he added he couldn’t really tell because the girl was wearing a hooded winter coat.

With that, Lewis’ attorneys, Faye Hoover-Grinde and Duane Rohovit, sat back, hurling objections to most of prosecutor Todd Tripp’s attempts to question Lewis.

District Court Judge Kristin Hibbs sided with the defense: Tripp could explore with Lewis only what little Hoover-Grinde had asked in her few minutes of direct questioning.

Still, Tripp noted a discrepancy in Lewis’ brief testimony and his statement to police on Dec. 28, the day of his arrest.

In that statement, Lewis told police Rylee seemed fine when she and her mother, Elise Gray, arrived back at the apartment.

Tripp also had Lewis acknowledge that he remained awake and in the apartment the entire time between 3 and the time Lewis discovered Rylee comatose about 8:30 a.m.

In that time, Rylee’s mother has testified she slept for a time on the couch and then left sometime around 8 to purchase milk for breakfast.

To convict Lewis, the defense attorneys contend Tripp must prove by medical testimony that Rylee was violently shaken and her head likely slammed into something in the time Gray was at the store.

Defense attorneys, to be sure, will have more of their own medical experts testify before testimony ends, now likely Monday.

But Tripp earlier emphasized to the jury to weigh qualifications carefully, and it now seems he will ask the jury to conclude that the testimony of one medical expert – Dr. Wilbur Smith 2 – matters more than the rest.

Smith is interim chairman of the radiology department at the University of Iowa medical school and a prominent pediatric radiologist and child-abuse expert. He is one of only 18 physicians nationwide certified in the subspecialty of pediatric radiology.

Smith told the jury point by point about the brain scans and spinal X-rays made of Rylee before she died Christmas Day at St. Luke’s Hospital.

Smith said the images showed the child’s brain injury, the brain’s swelling and how much of the brain had died between the first scans, shortly after her arrival at the hospital Dec. 23, and ones taken early Dec. 24.

“This is a major injury. Most probably incompatible with life,” Smith said.

Smith also noted four fractured vertebrae in her spine, which he said resulted from the violent “jack-knifing” of her torso as she was shaken.

Smith concluded Rylee “most likely” sustained her severe injury Dec. 23 sometime between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., the time prosecutor Tripp is trying to prove Lewis was alone with the child.

Smith testified that in shaken-infant cases of this severity, the injury almost instantly sends the child into a coma. Then the injured child experiences seizures and rigidity of the body and rolling of the eyes.

Rylee was comatose and some of her extremities were rigid when Lewis said he heard her stirring in bed and checked on her after 8 a.m.

Defense attorney Rohovit attacked Smith on the timing of the child’s injury. He asked Smith how he could have concluded that in early January, days after Rylee died, without talking to the physicians who cared for her and without reviewing the medical history of the case. Smith said the brain scans reveal much.

Prior to Thursday, a radiologist, a pathologist and pediatrician have said they could not pinpoint the time of Rylee’s injury to a few hours. A neurosurgeon thought the injury likely happened in the two hours before Rylee arrived at the hospital.

Defense attorneys Thursday called David Russell, a Cedar Rapids radiologist, who also testified that he could not time Rylee’s injuries to the hour.

Copyright (c) 1995, 2000 Cedar Rapids Gazette

Blame in tot’s death up to jury

The Gazette (Cedar Rapids-Iowa City) – Tuesday, November 21, 1995

Author: Rick Smith, Gazette staff writer

A Linn County jury will resume deliberations today, knowing with near certainty it has seen close up the person who shook and likely slammed little Rylee Gray into a coma that led to her death last Christmas Day.

That is the only thing near certain.

The prosecution says Matthew Lewis, on trial for first-degree murder, did it.

Lewis’ attorneys say the injuries to 2-year-old Rylee as easily could have come at the hands of Rylee’s mother, Elise Gray.

The jury has nine verdict options: from not guilty to guilty of first-degree murder or one of a series of seven less-serious charges.

Both Lewis, 23, of Cedar Rapids, and Gray, 22, now of Oxford Junction, testified in Lewis’ week-long trial, both have denied harming Rylee, and both deny having seen the other harm her.

On different sides of the courtroom throughout the trial, both Lewis and Gray have had friends and family members from three generations looking on.

In closing arguments Monday afternoon, Lewis defense attorney Fae Hoover-Grinde told jurors not to let anger for the toddler’s death force them to side against Lewis.

“You’re not here to avenge the death of Rylee Gray,” Hoover-Grinde told the jury. “Don’t say, ‘Someone did it. He’s the one on trial. Somebody’s got to pay for this little girl’s death.”‘

She also made vague mention of unanswered questions about an ex-boyfriend who did not appear at trial.

Prosecutor Todd Tripp told the jury that the case comes down to Lewis and Gray.

“It has to be one or the other, and there was only one opportunity,” Tripp said.

Discordant testimony among medical experts during the trial centered on a finding crucial to the case: when was Rylee injured?

Tripp has tried to use expert testimony to show that the injury to Rylee was “hyperacute,” and that it took place at most two hours before the first scans of her swelling brain were taken at 9:22 a.m. on Dec. 23. She arrived about 40 minutes earlier at the St. Luke’s Hospital emergency room.

Hoover-Grinde, and defense colleague Duane Rohovit, have had medical experts, reviewing the same brain scans, testify they cannot conclude the injury to Rylee came around 7:30 a.m. or later.

Tripp is arguing that the injury occurred in a time span of 20 to 30 minutes around 8 a.m. Dec. 23 when Gray left her daughter and Lewis alone in his northeast Cedar Rapids apartment.

In any event, Gray was never alone with Rylee from 3 a.m. until 8:48 a.m., when Lewis and Gray turned up at the hospital with the comatose toddler, Tripp noted.

Hoover-Grinde and Rohovit say the injury occurred before 3 a.m., when Rylee was in the care of her mother.

The defense attorneys particularly cite a feud between Lewis and Gray that sent Gray on a late-night car trip from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. in search of an ex-boyfriend in Lost Nation.

Why, asked Hoover-Grinde, did Gray, upon returning to Lewis’ apartment, sit in her car from five to 30 minutes before going back inside? Was she really thinking about her faltering relationship with Lewis as she testified? asked the attorney.

“Or had something happened to Rylee? Maybe she knew she (Rylee) was hurt and she didn’t know what to do,” Hoover-Grinde asked.

Tripp asked the jury not to shift its focus from Lewis simply because they might not approve of some of Gray’s judgments, such as the late-night trip to Lost Nation or her decision in November 1994 to move Rylee in with Lewis after knowing him just two days.

Tripp cited Lewis’ voluntary statement to police detectives at his arrest Dec. 28, in which Lewis said Rylee appeared fine when Gray returned with her at 3 a.m.

“You might not approve of her (Elise Gray’s) parenting … but Rylee Gray was fine when she came back at 3 a.m..” Tripp told jurors.

Hoover-Grinde reminded jurors how Lewis had elaborated on his statement to police when he testified. Rylee, the attorney said, appeared fine, but Lewis really only assumed she was. She was sleeping and in her winter coat at 3 a.m. when her mother took her upstairs and put her to bed, the defense attorney said.

Dr. Allan Ingenito, pediatric neurologist from the Minneapolis Clinic of Neurology, the final defense witness, testified Monday morning. Ingenito concluded that the progress of swelling in Rylee’s brain indicated that the injury to her occurred six to 18 hours before her first brain scan at the hospital, or at the latest 3:22 a.m.

Ingenito, who estimated he has seen 20 patients a day in his 10 years of neurological practice, said “hyperacute” cases that result in very fast brain swelling are rare, perhaps 5 percent of the cases.

Prosecutor Tripp proceeded to call Ingenito “the $5,000 man,” referring to the fee, absent expenses, he charged for testifying. Tripp recalled the testimony of Dr. Loren Mowu, a Cedar Rapids neurosurgeon who treated Rylee, who cited a study that shows 25 percent, not 5 percent, of brain-injury cases are hyperacute.

Mowu, in turn, was much ridiculed by defense attorneys for offering differing sworn opinions in June, September and at trial. Each one pushed Rylee’s injury occur closer and closer to the time she appeared at the hospital.

Copyright (c) 1995, 2000 Cedar Rapids Gazette

Lewis acquitted of killing tot — Linn jury decides verdict in 4 hours

The Gazette (Cedar Rapids-Iowa City) – Wednesday, November 22, 1995
Author: Rick Smith, Gazette staff writer

Tuesday’s relatively quick acquittal of Matthew Lewis left him and his family thankful and the family of the little girl he was charged with murdering dismayed.

The 23-year-old Lewis clenched his hands in a prayerful pose when the jury returned its not guilty verdict in Linn County District Court after about four hours of deliberation.

He then hugged his attorneys, Duane Rohovit and Fae Hoover-Grinde, with all his might.

“I’ve never been hugged (by a client) like that before,” Hoover-Grinde said.

“It was very emotional for all of us,” Rohovit said.

Lewis’ mother, Colleen, said she never doubted her son’s innocence for a minute.

The verdict stunned the family of Rylee Gray, the 2-year-old daughter of Elise Gray who died last Christmas Day, the victim of shaking and slamming.

Rylee’s grandfather, Don Gray of Central City, said last night that he, Rylee’s mother and their entire family felt as if it was last Christmas all over again.

“I think we’re victimized again,” Don Gray said. “It’s just very hard to put into words the despair I feel over all of this.”

Lewis’ attorneys said the verdict was a reaffirmation that the system works.

A disappointed prosecutor, Todd Tripp, said the case against Lewis was never “a sure bet.”

“I thought we presented a case the jurors could convict on,” he said. “At the same time, this is not a completely irrational verdict. Sometimes verdicts come back and everybody wonders, ‘How could that have happened?’ It is not beyond my comprehension that this is the verdict they reached.”

Lewis’ defense team never shirked from admitting that Rylee was shaken and slammed into a coma before Lewis and girlfriend Elise Gray turned up at the St. Luke’s Hospital emergency room at 8:48 a.m. Dec. 23.

Gray tacitly pointed the finger at Lewis when she said her daughter must have been injured about 8 a.m. when she left Rylee alone with Lewis while she went out for milk.

Lewis’ attorneys steered blame back on Gray, noting that Rylee may have been injured before 3 a.m. on a late-night car trip that Gray took in search of an ex-boyfriend.

The defense’s medical expert said Rylee’s injury likely happened hours earlier than 7 or 8 a.m., and the prosecution’s expert said it likely happened when Rylee’s mother was out for milk.

Defense attorneys Rohovit and Hoover-Grinde emphasized that Lewis’ acquittal in no way means Gray hurt her own child, even though that suggestion was the center of their defense.

“We said in our opening statement to the jury that you don’t have to prove anybody else did it,” Rohovit said. “If the state fails to go beyond a reasonable doubt, then it’s up to the police to investigate and find out who did it.”

Jury foreman Richard Fader, of Lisbon, declined to elaborate on the jury’s verdict.

“It’s an emotional issue and I rather not make a statement,” Fader said. “I think the verdict says enough for itself.”

Juror Bruce Young, of Cedar Rapids, said “too many open ends, too many possibilities” prevented the jury from convicting Lewis.

From conflicting testimony of medical experts Young concluded that the injury to Rylee could have taken place over a period of up to 12 hours.

“Anything can happen in that amount of time,” he said.

He said it was not his job to point a finger at anybody else for Rylee’s murder.

Lewis’ family and friends waited an hour after the trial in the lobby of the Linn County Jail for him to come through the door a free man for the first time in nearly 11 months.

His mother, Colleen, and his sister, Lori, knew the jail lobby well from once-a-week visits over that time. They knew the names of some of the other inmates and they knew which lobby door stuck the most.

Colleen Lewis clung to a little, stuffed elephant that her son had bought Rylee and had insisted she bring to the trial to remind him of the dead girl.

“It’s been with me everyday,” Colleen Lewis said.

She said her son, who has a high school diploma from Kirkwood Community College and has spent two years in the U.S. Navy, plans to find a job, live with his sister and get on with life.

“I feel pretty good,” said Lewis, emerging from jail, his waist size up from 28 to 34. “I would just like to say thank you to everybody who’s helped me through this ordeal.”

No, he said, he didn’t know how Rylee was hurt.

“What happened to Rylee is a tragedy. I miss her dearly,” Lewis said.

Rylee’s grandfather, Don Gray, said he resents most that the reasonable doubt that freed Lewis came at the expense of his daughter, Rylee’s mother.

“Every word of out her (defense attorney Hoover-Grinde’s) mouth was nothing but innuendo, and if said outside a courtroom it would be considered slanderous and libel,” Gray said. “She hung a tag on Elise forever.”

Only Elise, Gray said, eagerly took a lie detector test for police investigators, which she passed. He compared the Matthew Lewis trial to the O.J. Simpson one.

“They put the police, the scientists, and everybody else but O.J. on trial. They never put the defendant on trial,” he said.

Copyright (c) 1995, 2000 Cedar Rapids Gazette

About Rylee Gray

Rylee Marie Gray was born July 29, 1992, to Elise Gray, and at the time of her death had reached the age of 2 years and 5 months. She died on Sunday, Dec. 25, 1994, in St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids.

Private family visitation and services were held Tuesday, Dec. 27, at Goettsch Funeral Home in Monticello, with burial in Oakwood Cemetery in Monticello.

Survivors included her mother, Elise; her grandfather, Don Gray of Central City; her grandmother, Diane Gray; an uncle, Dustin Gray; an aunt, Erynn Gray; and her great-grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Doden and Mrs. W.D. Gray, all of Monticello.

Information Needed

If you have any information about Rylee’s death, please contact the Cedar Rapids Police Department at 319-286-5378.

  • Kimberly Frazier
  • Person Details for Rylee M Gray, “United States Social Security Death Index” — FamilySearch.org
  • “In this child’s death, the system failed,” by Don Gray, Central City, Letters to the Gazette, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, January 24, 1996
  • “C.R. man acquitted in death of girl faces drug charges,” by Rick Smith, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, January 12, 1996
  • “One case ends, another begins,” Gazette Editorials, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, November 26, 1995
  • “Lewis acquitted of killing tot; Linn jury decides verdict in 4 hours,” by Rick Smith, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, November 22, 1995
  • “Blame in tot’s death up to jury,” by Rick Smith, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, November 21, 1995
  • “Mother’s credibility probed; Lewis murder trial to wrap up Monday,” by Rick Smith, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, November 18, 1995
  • “Abuse expert, Lewis testify in Linn case,” by Rick Smith, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, November 17, 1995
  • “Testimony cites abuse in C.R. toddler’s death,” by Rick Smith, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, November 16, 1995
  • “Mom grilled on tot’s death; Defense questions C.R. woman in murder trial of former boyfriend,” by Rick Smith, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, November 15, 1995
  • “Jury selection continues for C.R. man accused in death of toddler,” Gazette staff report, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, November 14, 1995
  • “Trial delayed for man charged in death of tot,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, September 17, 1995
  • “Lewis murder trial reset,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, July 24, 1995
  • “Trial reset in toddler’s death,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, April 1, 1995
  • “Innocence claimed in death of C.R. toddler; Mother’s boyfriend charged with murder,” by Dick Hogan, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, January 20, 1995
  • “Homicide was C.R.’s 6th in ’94: Police to ask for arrest warrant in stabbing death,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, January 1, 1995
  • “Mom told murder suspect of plan to move out 1 day before tot hurt; C.R. man accused of murdering girl, 2,” by Becky Stover and Lynn M. Tefft, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, December 30, 1994
  • Rylee Marie Gray (1992 – 1994) — Find a Grave Memorial
  • “Central City Obituaries: Rylee Marie Gray,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, Monday, December 26, 1994


6 Responses to Rylee Gray

  1. Michelle Foss says:

    Wish our system could retry cases like these. Rylee's father didn't get to see her or know her. Someday we will see our sweet angel.

  2. Morgan says:

    Rylee was my baby cousin. I was 13 when she passed away. She was adorable, spirited, and had just celebrated her second Thanksgiving with our family. I recall she was seated next to her 80-something year old great-grandmother for Thanksgiving dinner, who was just delighted by her. It is preposterous to speculate that the child was not mourned. Of her survivors, surely her Grandpa Don took it the hardest, but we all grieved for Rylee (and her mother). My grandmother was present for every day of her trial. Elise may have been young, irresponsible and made some questionable decisions, but her family had no indication that this would be the result or they would have intervened. The child was loved, provided for and happy by all outward appearances. It’s just a shame.

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Morgan, thank you so much for your comments, and I’m so sorry for your loss. I’ve re-worded the case summary to indicate how the defense tried to portray Rylee’s mother, and to also note that Rylee’s grandfather took the death particularly hard. I’m sure the entire family grieved for Rylee, and my deepest condolences go out to all of you.

      Do you or another family member happen to have a photo of Rylee we could share with our readers? (Photo credit would be provided accordingly.) Photos or any other information you’d like to include could help readers more fully appreciate the difference Rylee made in so many lives. Please feel free to email me directly at: jody at iowacoldcases.org.

      Again, I’m so sorry your family had to experience such a tremendous loss.

      Jody at Iowa Cold Cases

  3. Kim says:

    I was the one who submitted the information for this case and while I admit my memory is a bit hazy due to the nearly 2 decades since this murder, I don’t believe any kind of neglect or abuse report was ever made to DHS concerning Rylee Gray. Without that initial report, no caseworker would be assigned to track her case, therefore no restraining order or other means could’ve been put into place to protect her.

    Plus, there’s no guarantee that even if any kind of report had been filed with DHS, that anything would’ve been done with it. This case occurred prior to the 2000 brutal murder of little Shelby Duis and the reporting process and follow-up process of DHS at that time was often extremely lax. Even after Shelby’s death brought about a massive overhaul of the system, cases can still fall through the cracks because social services are seriously overworked, understaffed, and underfunded. I can cite any number of child deaths in recent years, even recent months, where a report concerning potential abuse, molestation, or neglect of the child was on file, yet nothing was done to remove the child or otherwise ensure their safety and the child was murdered, usually at the hands of their abuser or molester. So unfortunately, even having a report on file or having the child in the system doesn’t guarantee they will automatically be protected.

    As to the injuries allegedly inflicted by Mr. Lewis prior to Rylee’s death, I believe they were incurred in the days before she died and not any longer than that. Ms. Gray did not live with Mr. Lewis for very long, so there wasn’t a huge span of time that Rylee could’ve been injured by him.

    • Theresa says:

      Excellent Points Kim. The laws covering children like that back then were much laxer. For example the Eli Creekmore case in Washington State. His Grand-Mother begged Social Services several times a month to remove him from the home for his safety, but he wasn’t. I was just thinking that this child was abused by everybody except the Grandfather. No one seemed to care.

  4. Theresa says:

    What did Social Services do about this information? It would be easy for a judge to have a protection order in place for this child and an explanation to the mother that if ANYTHING unhealthy happens to her child she will go to prison for non-protection.
    ref: the young girl had previously been injured while in his care. It also was revealed that Gray was a less than stellar mother to the little girl. If there was a case worker, they should pay the price.

    I’ve seen alcoholics sober up, drug addicts get help and then stay home, clean house, play with their children, get a job, wash clothes, bath their children, get rid of diaper rash, display love and affection that the child responds back to, and buy nutritious food with words like that. All that is needed is regular check-ups (at least once a month, that is a child must be visually seen and checked over once a month).

Comment Policy

We encourage thoughtful discussion here but ask that comments remain civilized and constructive … i.e. without personal attacks or name-calling. Be respectful of others and remember that victims' family members visit these pages, too. If you'd like to provide us with information regarding a suspect or have other sensitive details to relay, please email us directly. Thank you in advance.

Share Your Thoughts