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Saturday, July 20, 2019 1:00 am

Mom gets 6 years in child's death

Guilty of neglect, weeps while reading apology

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

The mother of a 2-year-old boy who was beaten to death in a case an Allen County judge called shocking was ordered Friday to spend six years in prison for neglecting her son and daughter.

Amber V. Garrett, 27, was charged with two counts of felony neglect after Malakai Garrett was killed in 2017.

The boy suffered severe injuries including damage to internal organs, and Mitchell Vanryn, 29 – Amber Garrett's boyfriend at the time – was convicted at trial in March of aggravated battery and domestic battery. Jurors acquitted Vanryn of murder, and he was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Dr. Scott Wagner performed an autopsy and said Malakai's organs “were shredded.” In court Friday, he repeated a statement he made at Vanryn's trial that the boy's injuries were equivalent to a fall from a three-story building.

“Internally, this is the worst case I've seen for a blunt force injury to a child,” said Wagner, who has performed hundreds of autopsies.

Amber Garrett was not home when her son was beaten Nov. 29, 2017, but court documents, Indiana Department of Child Services records obtained by The Journal Gazette last year and evidence submitted in a two-hour sentencing hearing Friday in Allen Superior Court show she knew about the abuse.

Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Patricia Pikel and Liza Anglin of the Fort Wayne Police Department, the lead investigator on the case, pointed to text messages between Amber Garrett and Vanryn.

“Malakai just got the belt pretty good,” one message from Vanryn to his girlfriend said.

The DCS records – publication of which prompted Judge Fran Gull to later rule Amber Garrett couldn't get a fair trial with local jurors – indicate the boy's mother was aware of bruising on his body.

One of the neglect charges was related to Malakai; the other for her 8-year-old daughter.

A plea agreement filed in June called for Amber Garrett to spend at least three years and up to six years in prison. She was ordered Friday to spend six years on probation when her sentence is completed.

Defense attorney Anthony Churchward asked the judge to sentence his client to three years, arguing Amber Garrett suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has accepted responsibility for the crimes. She also had no prior criminal record, he said. Gull, though, said bruises on the boy should have prompted his mother to action.

“For you to turn a blind eye to that ... is beyond comprehension,” she said. “I cannot wrap my mind around you knew he was being hurt, and you left him there.”

Garrett, who for most of the hearing sat without emotion and with her hands clasped in front of her, wept through reading a statement offering “sincere apologies to everyone touched by Malakai's death.”

“There's not a second that passes that I don't think about him,” she said. “I wish more than anything I could change what happened.”

Roberta Unverzagt, her grandmother, said Amber Garrett moved in with her at age 8 to escape an abusive father. Her mother left years before, Unverzagt said.

She testified Amber Garrett has changed since Malakai's death and read a letter written by Amber Garrett's daughter, who lives with Unverzagt.

“I love her so much,” the letter stated. “She's the best mommy in the world.”

Others gathered inside a third-floor courtroom at the Allen County Courthouse said Amber Garrett is a negligent parent with misplaced priorities.

Lantz Garrett, Malakai's father, said his son was “a piece of my soul.”

“Was Mitch that important that you would sacrifice your own children?” he asked.

Lichelle Boyd, the boy's aunt, said she is happy Malakai is no longer suffering.

“He had a future,” she said.

The future for Amber Garrett is with the Indiana Department of Correction. After the hearing, she was placed in handcuffs and led from the courtroom. She'll soon be sent to prison.

mleblanc@jg.net