First full day of testimony in trial for toddler’s murder

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Fort Wayne’s NBC) — It’s a child abuse case that’s gripped the community for more than a year.

Now the man prosecutors say beat a toddler to death is standing trial.

“It’s not even human to treat a baby like that,” family friend Sandra Hogle says.

People across the community banded together after the death of two-year-old Malakai Garrett in November of 2017.

Tuesday marked the first full day of testimony in the murder trial of 28-year-old Mitch Vanryn, who prosecutors say beat the little boy to death, leaving bruises all over his body and an abdomen full of blood from a lacerated pancreas.

Jurors and other people in the courtroom were visibly shaken when they saw photos of the toddler’s body.

“It’s just heartbreaking listening to the way that baby was taken to the hospital, and the condition that baby was in. It’s just, it’s heartbreaking,” Hogle says.

A detective read texts from Vanryn who babysat for Malakai every day and lived with Malakai’s mother, Amber Garrett.

The graphic texts depicted a man beyond frustrated that the toddler wasn’t potty trained and kept soiling his diapers, forcing vanryn to repeatedly bathe him and wash clothes and sheets.

Prosecutors called other witnesses to the stand to try to establish Vanryn was the only one home with Malakai before he died.

“I hope justice is served for him. He needs more. More than what they’ll probably give him,” family friend Angela Kohart says.

The group JAVA, Justice, Accountability, and Victims Advocacy, was founded after the boy’s death, with “Justice for Malakai” slogans springing up all over the city.

“Children in our community many times are not given the power, the respect, and as adults, we don’t protect them the way that we should. And Malakai is evidence of that,” says JAVA’s Nicole Gaunt.

Gaunt says she deals professionally with abuse and neglect every day, so she was surprised at her reaction to the testimony.

“I didn’t think that I would be moved emotionally, mentally, or that my soul would be jarred. But being in the courtroom this morning, hearing all of it, it absolutely has been,” she says.

“I would hate to think that somebody’s going to go to prison for life, but I think he deserves it. I really do, after hearing the condition that that baby was in today. It’s just heartbreaking,” Hogle tells us.

Mitch Vanryn’s trial is scheduled to wrap up on Friday.

Malakai Garrett’s mother, Amber Garrett, is scheduled to be tried for two felony counts of neglect of a dependent in June.

A jury will be brought in from another part of the state for that trial.

Corinne Rose

Corinne Rose

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