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Wednesday, May 15, 2019 1:00 am

Toddler's death brings 40 years

Boy brutally beaten; defendant gives an apology

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

The man who beat 2-year-old Malakai Garrett to death – hitting the boy so hard internal organs were “shredded,” a doctor said – was ordered Tuesday to spend 40 years in prison.

Mitchell Vanryn, 28, was convicted in March of aggravated battery and domestic battery, but jurors acquitted him of murder. He had faced up to 135 years behind bars if he had been convicted on each charge.

He'll instead serve only a fraction of that, despite a veteran judge calling the case one of the most brutal she's ever seen and prosecutors referring to Vanryn's actions as “extremely heinous.”

“Can you imagine the pain he felt?” Lantz Garrett, Malakai's father, asked near the start of an hour-long sentencing hearing. “My son, my baby boy. Every day I wake up in pain and with some part of my soul missing.”

Vanryn was watching Malakai while the boy's mother, Amber Garrett, was at work on Nov. 29, 2017.

Malakai was taken to a fire station near the family's Palmetta Court home and then to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. The boy was covered in bruises and suffered gruesome injuries including a bruised kidney and a lacerated pancreas and liver.

Dr. Scott Wagner performed an autopsy and found injuries consistent with strikes from a closed fist. Force equal to falling from a three-story building would be necessary to cause the internal injuries, he testified at trial.

Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull sentenced Vanryn to 40 years on the aggravated battery charge and 30 years for domestic battery. The sentences will be served at the same time for a sentence of 40 years in prison.

“You violated the position of trust,” Gull said. “Instead of taking care of him, you beat him to death.”

Indiana's murder statute defines the crime as “knowingly or intentionally” killing another person, and Vanryn's lawyers asked jurors to consider whether he meant to kill Malakai – a question defense attorney James Hanson raised again in court Tuesday.

A sentencing memorandum he filed Monday says Vanryn “does acknowledge and accept that he is the sole cause of Malakai Garrett's death by means of reckless and inexcusable conduct” but rejects the jury's decision to convict him on the battery charges. He is guilty of reckless homicide, according to the memorandum.

“(Vanryn) does maintain that he did not do this intentionally,” Hanson said before his client was sentenced.

Wearing a jail-issued orange-and-white striped jumpsuit, Vanryn stood, apologized and said he maintains his innocence on the battery counts.

“There's no words to express what happened,” he said. “For what it's worth, I really, truly am sorry.”

Detective Liza Anglin of the Fort Wayne Police Department said she is skeptical. She interviewed Vanryn after Malakai's death and didn't find him apologetic.

“I was never under the impression that (he) was remorseful at all,” Anglin said.

Lichelle Boyd, Malakai's aunt, told the judge her family “is forever changed.”

“You murdered my nephew,” she said to Vanryn.

Deputy Prosecutor Patricia Pikel said a “live and love” tattoo worn by Vanryn provides a cruel irony.

“Those are things Malakai will never do,” she said.

Amber Garrett is charged with two counts of felony neglect in her son's death. A trial is scheduled June 24.

mleblanc@jg.net