FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) The mother of a 2-year-old boy who police said was beaten to death by her boyfriend has pleaded guilty just ahead of her scheduled trial.
In a surprise hearing inside Allen Superior Court Thursday morning, Amber Garrett, 27, pleaded guilty to two felony charges of Neglect of a Dependent related to the Nov. 29, 2017, death of her son, Malakai Garrett.
Garrett’s boyfriend, Mitchell Vanryn, was sentenced to 40 years for Aggravated Battery and Battery in the boy’s death. He was acquitted of murder.
It was around 5:45 p.m. that late November day that police took a call from a Palmetta Court home, in the Crestwood Colony neighborhood off North Clinton Street on Fort Wayne’s north side. A short time later, young Malakai was dropped off at nearby Fire Station 13, along North Clinton Street.
From there he was taken to a hospital in critical condition where he died a short time later.
An autopsy determined that the toddler had extensive and severe bruising in numerous locations including his chest, abdomen, back, face and head. He also had severe injuries to internal organs including the liver, stomach, small intestine as well as a lacerated pancreas.
The doctor who performed the autopsy said that in his expert opinion, the injuries “were consistent with that of multiple blows and strikes from a closed fist punch,” according to a probable cause affidavit.
The Allen County Coroner’s Office ruled Malakai’s death a homicide.
Garrett told police that Vanryn was the sole child care provider for him while she was at work Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to approximately 4:30 p.m. According to the affidavit, on the day Malakai died, he was still asleep when she left for work at around 7:30 a.m.
She said the little boy had not been feeling well he night before and had bruises on his face from falling, the affidavit said. She also said he had been suffering from diarrhea, complained of pain to his head and not been eating, the affidavit detailed.
Vanryn told police that he had put Malakai down for a nap at around 1 p.m. and when the boy’s sister arrived home from school just after 4, he was still not awake, the affidavit said. Vanryn told the girl to go outside and jump on a trampoline and when he went to wake the boy up, he found him unresponsive, according to the affidavit.
Vanryn told police he then slapped the boy in the face and put cold water on him.
According to the affidavit, police viewed surveillance video from a neighbor that showed Vanryn running out of the home at 4:43 p.m. with Malakai, who appeared to be limp, in his arms. He then ran back into the home less than a minute later.
Three minutes later Vanryn left the home again to take Malakai to the fire station, the affidavit detailed.
The doctor who attended to Malakai at the hospital told investigators the boy’s body had bruises to the groin, torso, on his cheeks and the back of his head. The physician said the bruises appeared to be 2-3 days old.
Police said it was obvious to investigators that battery had occurred. After talking to the coroner, assessing bruises on the boy’s body, and interviewing Vanryn, investigators determined he was responsible for the physical abuse, and he was arrested the day after young Malakai died.
Garrett was charged in January 2018 after police found a text message exchange between her and Vanryn.
In a probable cause affidavit, police said Garrett sold a broken iPhone to a man, who turned around and had the phone repaired. Afterward, the man found a text message chain on the phone between Garrett and Vanryn that began with Vanryn’s claim that he was in “deep (expletive trouble)” because the boy “slipped and fell in the (expletive) shower,” according to the affidavit.
“I’m not watching these kids anymore,” Vanryn said in the text messages. “This (expletive) is too much.”
Police collected the phone from the man after he said Garrett tried to buy it back from him, the affidavit siad.
On the phone, police found more text messages between Vanryn and Garrett which detailed a history of domestic abuse by Vanryn, including times he threatened to “beat her (expletive)” for calling the doctor about Malakai, another time he pulled her hair and kicked her while she was on the ground and yet another time he hit her with a pool stick, the affidavit said.
Text messages were also recovered which showed Garrett telling Vanryan that he has anger issues and that he was too hard on her children, the affidavit said.
In March, Vanryn was acquitted of murder, but found guilty of aggravated battery and battery by a jury. He’s currently serving 40 years.
In a plea agreement with the Allen County Prosecutors, Garrett will serve no more than six years in prison, and six years on active probation. Garrett will be sentenced July 19, where a judge will decide on the agreement.