The Journal Gazette
Friday, June 14, 2019 1:00 am

Guilty plea entered in tot's death

Mom admits 2 neglect counts

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

A Fort Wayne woman scheduled to go to trial this month on charges she neglected her 2-year-old son, who was beaten to death in 2017, pleaded guilty Thursday.

Malakai Garrett was severely beaten, and caregiver Mitchell Vanryn – Amber Garrett's boyfriend at the time – was convicted in March of aggravated battery and domestic battery and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Garrett, 27, was charged with two counts of neglect – one related to Malakai; the other for her daughter – after the boy died Nov. 29, 2017. She pleaded guilty in Allen Superior Court to both counts.

She could be ordered to spend up to six years in prison when she's sentenced next month, and a plea agreement calls for her to spend six years on probation. A judge will decide the terms July 19.

A trial had been scheduled for June 24.

Jurors acquitted Vanryn, 28, of murder but convicted him after a three-day trial of the other two charges. He had been expected to testify at Garrett's trial.

Malakai suffered horrific injuries including “shredded” internal organs, according to a doctor who performed an autopsy. Dr. Scott Wagner testified the injuries were equivalent to a fall from a three-story building.

The boy was taken by Vanryn to a fire station near the family's Palmetta Court home and then to a hospital, where he died. Vanryn was watching Malakai while Garrett was at work.

The plea brings nearly to an end a case that quickly gained notoriety and drew the attention of activists who pushed prosecutors and a judge to punish Garrett and Vanryn. For weeks after charges were filed, messages in sidewalk chalk reading “#Justice4Malakai” were left near the entrance of the Allen County Courthouse.

News coverage, those messages and sometimes threatening comments on social media led Garrett and Vanryn to ask Judge Fran Gull to order jurors from outside Allen County to hear their cases. Gull denied both requests, ruling neither had proved they could not receive a fair trial with local jurors.

The judge reversed her decision for Garrett in November, after The Journal Gazette and WANE-TV published information culled from state Department of Child Services records showing Vanryn was abusive. Court records alleged Garrett knew about the abuse.

Jury selection was scheduled June 24, and they would have heard the case in Allen County. Officials have not identified the county from which jurors would have been selected.

Investigators used text messages on Garrett's phone to establish that she knew of a pattern of abuse months before Malakai was killed, according to court documents, and court testimony and DCS records back up the allegations.

Garrett's daughter said in a nearly 70-minute video recording played in court in September that Vanryn hit Malakai. Family members told state social workers they saw bruises on the boy.

Malakai suffered beatings, chemical burns and “abrasions on his corneas” for weeks before he died, according to documents prosecutors filed last year.

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