AP NEWS

Importing murder trial jury resisted

February 15, 2019

Prosecutors are challenging a request by a Fort Wayne man charged with killing a toddler in 2017 to have his case heard by jurors from outside Allen County.

Mitchell Vanryn, 28, is charged with murder, aggravated battery and domestic battery in the death of Malakai Garrett, 2. He argues in court documents “prejudicial news-reporting or editorializing,” “speculative opinions as to the personality and character of the accused” and records from the state Department of Child Services that include allegations he abused the boy make it impossible for him to receive a fair trial with local jurors.

Defendants who believe bias or prejudice exists among potential jurors can ask a judge to move their trial from the county where the alleged crime occurred. The judge can also order jurors to be brought from somewhere else.

Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards and Deputy Prosecutor Patricia Pikel say Vanryn has not proved bias or prejudice exists.

″(He) has identified no specific prejudicial publicity of any kind in any medium of communication,” their response to Vanryn’s motion in Allen Superior Court for change of venue states. “If not prejudicial, pretrial publicity is not a basis for a change of venue.”

The issue is scheduled to be discussed in a court hearing today.

Police and doctors said the boy was abused. Court testimony from another child who lived with Malakai and DCS records also referenced abuse.

Malakai died Nov. 29, 2017, and he had injuries to his internal organs : wounds consistent with strikes from a closed fist, according to a probable cause affidavit.

The judge in Vanryn’s case, Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull, already has approved having out-of-county jurors hear the case of Malakai’s mother, Amber Garrett, 27. That decision came after The Journal Gazette and WANE-TV published information last year from DCS records, some of which Gull said shouldn’t have been released.

Garrett is charged with two counts of felony neglect in the death of her son.

Vanryn, who was watching Malakai when he died, cites the release of the DCS documents among reasons for jurors from outside Allen County to hear his case. Prosecutors reject that claim in a two-page document filed Wednesday.

Instead, Richards and Pikel refute a statement from Vanryn that “all the pre-trial publicity directed at the victim’s mother references (Vanryn) and makes prejudicial statements about both (he) and the case generally.”

“Rather, the prejudicial publicity regarding the victim’s mother largely concerned prior incidents of alleged abuse/neglect in which (Vanryn) was not said to be involved,” prosecutors wrote in their response. ”(He) does not identify ... any publicity disclosing inadmissible evidence of prior incidents of alleged abuse involving (Vanryn).”

Vanryn’s trial is scheduled to start March 19. Garrett’s five-day trial is scheduled to begin June 24.

mleblanc@jg.net