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Wednesday, March 13, 2019 1:00 am

Judge keeps murder case in county

Testimony in toddler's death starts next week

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

A Fort Wayne man charged with killing a toddler in 2017 lost his bid to have his case heard by jurors from outside Allen County.

Mitchell Vanryn, 28, had argued “prejudicial news-reporting or editorializing,” “speculative opinions as to the personality and character of the accused” and state Department of Child Services records that allege he abused the boy make it impossible for him to be tried fairly with local jurors.

Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull rejected the claims in a one-paragraph order issued Monday.

“(Vanryn) has not shown that community prejudice exists which could prevent his obtaining a fair trial in Allen County,” she wrote.

In court Tuesday, Gull confirmed a four-day trial scheduled to begin next week.

Vanryn is charged with murder, aggravated battery and domestic battery in the November 2017 beating death of 2-year-old Malakai Garrett. Doctors told investigators the boy had injuries to internal organs – wounds consistent with strikes from a closed fist.

Amber Garrett, 27, Malakai's mother, is charged with two counts of felony neglect in the death of her son.

Gull granted her request for out-of-county jurors after The Journal Gazette and WANE-TV published information last year from DCS documents detailing the alleged abuse of the child.

A motion for change of venue filed in January by defense attorney James Hanson references the documents, news reports and comments on social media as reasons for jurors from outside Allen County to hear the case. He said in court in February much of the pretrial publicity assumes Vanryn is guilty.

Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards argued the pretrial publicity is aimed at Garrett, not Vanryn.

Vanryn faces a prison sentence of up to 135 years if he is convicted of all three charges against him.

Garrett's five-day trial is scheduled to start June 24.

mleblanc@jg.net