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Wednesday, June 13, 2018 1:00 am

Judge rejects mom's bid to change venue

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

An Allen County judge has rejected a request from a woman charged in the death of her 2-year-old son to move her trial or bring in jurors from another county to hear the case.

Amber Garrett, 26, sought a change of venue in February, arguing in court documents that angry comments on social media, messages written in chalk outside the Allen County Courthouse and news coverage could bias potential jurors.

A hearing May 22 featured testimony from the creators of separate Facebook groups that have been critical of Garrett, who is facing two counts of felony neglect in the death of Malakai Garrett.

Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull denied the request in an order that says specific information regarding membership of the groups, which boast thousands of members, was not presented at the hearing. Katelyn Gustin, who created the #JusticeforMalakai group, testified about half of its 10,000 members are from Allen County.

Also, no evidence was presented about the chalk messages or an online petition to charge Garrett with murder to show potential jurors might be swayed in their opinions, Gull wrote.  

“Fort Wayne, Allen County is a large metropolitan community which is not subject to any particular generalized state of mind,” the order states. “There has been no showing that there is, as a result of pretrial publicity or social media coverage, or any other reasons, a generalized pattern of deep and bitter hostility throughout the community that it will be unlikely an impartial jury can be selected.”

Jury selection for Garrett's trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 11.

The judge's order leaves open the possibility for a change of venue at that time, “should the court be unable to seat an impartial jury.”

Garrett was arrested in January, nearly two months after Malakai was taken in November to a fire station on North Clinton Street and then to a hospital, where he died. Doctors told police the boy had injuries consistent with being struck with a closed fist, a probable cause affidavit says.

Chalk messages urging prosecutors to charge Garrett with murder began showing up outside the courthouse shortly after her arrest.

Mitchell Vanryn, 27, is charged with murder in Malakai's death. His trial is scheduled for Oct. 23. 

mleblanc@jg.net