A man accused of beating his girlfriend’s toddler to death has been acquitted of murder.
After a three-day trial, the jury found Mitchell Vanryn not guilty of murder, but guilty of aggravated battery and domestic battery death Thursday night.
The decision came after closing arguments that focused on Vanryn’s intent and if he actually meant to kill the child. The defense argued there wasn’t evidence that he meant to kill Malakai as he worked to save his life. The prosecution said the damage done to his body was enough proof.
2-year-old Malakai Garrett died in November of 2017. An autopsy determined he had extensive bruising, consistent with blows from a fist.
“I was surprised that he didn’t get the murder,“ said Malakai’s father Lantz Garrett. “He got something out of it, it’s a little bit better than nothing, I guess. It still isn’t justice. Justice won’t be until everybody is held accountable.“
Thursday marked the third day of the trial. The day started with jurors watching the police station interview between Detective Liza Anglin and Vanryn. It happened shortly after Malakai died. In it, Vanryn was questioned about what happened that day, Malakai being sick, how he dealt with stress from kids, Malakai’s injuries, among other topics.
Vanryn said he wouldn’t abuse his child. “He hasn’t been abused as far as I know,“ he said during the interview.
“If he was abused, someone needs to be held accountable,“ Vanryn added during the interview.
At the end of the interview, Vanryn asked about the process of the investigation.
“When will this be over, so we can be done with this (expletive) and get on to dealing with our grief,“ Vanryn said.
During the interview, Vanryn could be heard sniffling. After watching the interview, the prosecution asked the detective if she saw tears. The detective said “no.“ She also said he never asked for tissues or asked about Malakai.
Before lunch, Scott Wagner, M.D. took the stand to talk about Malakai’s autopsy. The testimony brought the most reactions from the audience during the trial with quiet gasps and cringes, as he explained his way through several pictures.
WANE 15 News saw the same pictures the jurors did. Malakai’s body was covered in bruises. Wagner counted more than thirty, but said there were too many to get an exact number.
Wagner did note marks on Malakai’s back that were consistent with a knuckle pattern, or fist.
Despite the signs of injuries outside his body, Wagner credits Malakai’s death to the internal injuries. The liver and pancreas were torn. The boy’s abdomen was filled with blood. There were other tears inside his body and spots where blood was able to get into, where it shouldn’t be.
In his opinion, Wagner said the tears were the result of blunt force and the 2-year-old could not have lived with those injuries for more than an hour or two.
Vanryn testified after a break, which was followed by closing arguments.
Vanryn’s testimony was very similar to the interview with the detective at the police station. He denied knowing about the reason behind most of the marks on Malakai’s body during cross examination.
After a few hours of deliberation, the jury came back with its decision Thursday night.
The eight women and four men found Vanryn guilty of aggravated battery and domestic battery. They did not find him guilty of murder, which frustrated and disappointed Malakai’s father.
“I was surprised that he didn’t get the murder,“ Lantz Garrett said. “He got something out of it. It’s a little bit better than nothing, I guess. It still isn’t justice. Justice won’t be until everybody is held accountable.“
Vanryn’s bond was revoked following the final verdict.
His sentencing is set for May 3.
DAY 2 OF TRIAL
Detectives from the Fort Wayne Police Department took the stand to start the second day of the trial Wednesday. The detectives went over phone records, collected during the investigation.
They first walked the prosecution and jury through the amount of phone calls exchanged between Vanryn and Malakai’s mother, Amber Garrett, the day Malakai died. He testified that no calls were made to 911 during that time period.
The second detective, Liza Anglin focused on text messages. The prosecution asked her to read numerous messages sent from Vanryn’s phone to Amber Garrett leading up to Malakai’s death.
The text messages showed frustration from Vanryn about Malakai going to the bathroom in his pants several times and making him stay in his room for the remainder of the day, on multiple occasions.
According to the detective, there were not any texts about Malakai being sick or falling in the days leading up to his death, a defense used by Vanryn in the past.
Anglin also referred to an investigation of Vanryn’s Facebook page which showed him being a member of several boxing groups.
The detective’s time on the stand wrapped up with her recollection of seeing Malakai at the hospital after he died, saying he had bruising and marks on nearly every part of his body, blood in his stomach and was wearing a dirty diaper.
An ex-girlfriend was then called by prosecutor Karen Richards. She also has a son with him. She said she picked their son up from the house Vanryn was at, the day Malakai died.
She said she saw Malakai with a bruise on his face. When she asked the two-year-old what happened, Vanryn jumped into answer the question. She said Malakai appeared to be “under the weather.“
Before the court’s lunch break, Malakai’s great-grandmother took the stand. She is Amber Garrett’s grandmother.
The grandmother said she dropped off Malakai’s sister at the house that day. She said she asked to see Malakai, but Vanryn said he was napping.
After the lunch break, firefighters and a paramedic took to the stand to answer questions about their life-saving efforts after Vanryn carried Malakai to the nearby fire station.
CPR and other aid was given to the child on the station’s kitchen table before the ambulance arrived. The medics had to give the two-year-old several doses of medicine in an effort to keep his heart pumping, but he eventually lost his pulse, dying at the hospital.
A DCS worker also took to the stand. She interviewed Malakai’s sister. Both the prosecution and the defense teams agreed hearing from her would be a better option than questioning the girl on the stand. According to the DCS worker, Malakai’s sister was not allowed in the house by Vanryn the afternoon of Malakai’s death. She stayed in the backyard, jumping on their trampoline until Vanryn returned from the fire station. He grabbed her and took her back to where her brother was dying.
DAY 1 OF TRIAL
In opening statements Tuesday, defense attorneys said Mitchell Vanryn would testify.
Then prosecutors began their case by calling multiple witnesses to paint a picture of a child poorly cared-for and abused.
Malakai’s mother, Amber Garrett, is charged with neglect of a dependent. She’s scheduled to go on trial in June.
The state started with Lantz Garrett, Malakai’s father. He and Amber are divorced.
Lantz Garrett said his last day with Malakai was June 24 and that Malakai primarily stayed with Amber. He added that Vanryn had recently moved in with her at the Palmetto residence.
Malakai’s great-grandmother, Margaret Easterly, then testified that in October 2017, she saw Malakai with dark eyes and red marks around his throat. She then called Child Protective Services for a well-being check.
Fort Wayne Police Officer John Williams then testified that he arrived at the same time as the Indiana Department of Child Services worker for the well-being check. Williams said Malakai had dark circles under his eyes, appeared malnourished, and had a bruise on his cheek. Williams found no injuries to Malakai’s chest, stomach or back.
Amanda Treska, DCS case manager, said she observed a healing cut on Malakai’s upper lip (she was told he fell in the shower) and a bluish/purplish color around eyes. She was told those marks were from physical discipline. She recommended Malakai be taken to his pediatrician for check-up. She did not remove the child from the home.
Then prosecutors called Alysha Tun, who said she’s known Amber for 10 years or so. Tun said that after Malakai died, she looked on Facebook and saw a video that concerned her. The video had Amber and Malakai in it with Malakai saying something to the effect that “Mitch hit my head.” Tun said the video was a recording of the original video because, she claimed, Amber deleted the original.
Next to testify was Dustin Ellenwood, who works at Grace Computers and knows Amber. Ellenwood says Amber sold him a phone with a broken screen but then, on December 3, she wanted the phone back. Ellenwood replaced the broken screen and noticed texts that alarmed him, so he notified police and turned the phone over to them.
A FWPD crime scene tech then showed pictures and video from the house. The jury then saw autopsy photos that showed a large bruise on Malakai’s left cheek as well as bruising on his back – large enough, prosecutors contend, that it could match an adult fist. Malakai also displayed bruising on his chest and severe internal injuries.
The jury consisted of eight women and four men with two alternates.
Vanryn’s lawyers wanted his trial moved from Fort Wayne but the judge denied that request.