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Trial dates postponed for adoptive parents accused of neglecting Ukrainian-born girl

Journal & Courier
Journal & Courier
 2022-08-17
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LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Michael Barnett's trial on allegations he neglected his adopted daughter, a Ukrainian orphan with severe dwarfism, was postponed from Sept. 12 to Oct. 24, which had been the trial date of his ex-wife, Kristine Barnett, who faces identical charges.

Michael Barnett's new trial date bumps Kristine Barnett's day in court, but her new trial date has not yet been set.

The reason for the delay in Michael Barnett's trial is because defense attorneys have not been able to take depositions from everyone on the state's lengthy witness list.

Terrance Kinnard, Michael Barnett's attorney, told the court they have only been able to depose four of the state's 28 witnesses, but nine witnesses are scheduled for deposition on Friday.

Did Michael Barnett violate a gag order with Hulu negotiations?

During Wednesday's pretrial hearing, the court also addressed the prosecutor's suspicions that Michael Barnett violated the court's gag order by negotiating with Hulu for his media rights for its production about the Barnett's case.

Tippecanoe County Deputy Prosecutor Jackie Starbuck filed Monday for Kinnard and Michael Barnett to produce any documents related to the negotiations with Hulu. Kinnard and Barnett have not yet filed a response to prosecutors' request.

Tippecanoe Superior 2 Judge Steve Meyer told Starbuck to gather the evidence of an alleged violation of the gag order before bringing it before the court. Starbuck indicated she was in the process of doing just that.

Michael Barnett and Kristine Barnett, faced eight charges of neglect of a dependent on allegations that they abandoned their adopted daughter, Natalia Grace, in Lafayette in June 2012 and then moved to Canada with their biological sons.

How old is Natalia Grace Barnett?

Based on Natalia's birth records from Ukraine, she was born in September 2003, which would have made her not quite 9 years old when she was left in Lafayette.

But the Barnetts have said they were defrauded during the adoption of Natalia.

They believed Natalia was an adult when they adopted her in the spring of 2008, not a 4-year-old girl. Before a gag order was imposed, the Barnetts each told other news outlets that Natalia had pubic hair and menstrual cycles, and made threats to kill the Barnetts and their three sons.

In a November 2019 episode of Dr. Phil, Natalia denied being an adult.

In 2010, the Barnetts petitioned a Marion County court to change Natalia's birth year from 2003 to 1989. That petition was granted.

Because Tippecanoe County prosecutors cannot get another court to undo the re-aging order, Natalia turns — in the eyes of the law — 33 years old early next month.

During Wednesday's hearing, Kinnard, Starbuck and the court discussed whether Natalia could be described to jurors as an adult.

Calling Natalia an adult is problematic, Starbuck argued, since some of the doctors will have to curtail their testimony that might indicate that Natalia's condition in 2012 was that of a child, not a 22-year-old, as per her re-aging order.

"We want the jury to know that person is an adult," Kinnard said during the pretrial hearing, explaining part of his defense was to show that Natalia was an adult able to get around and function in society.

"We are not going to be talking about age," Meyer said during the various age-related discussions about what jurors can and cannot hear from the attorneys and the witnesses.

Natalia can be referred to as a person and may refer to her court-ordered age in 2012.

Michael Barnett's new pretrial hearing is scheduled for Sept. 12 — the date his trial was supposed to begin.

Reach Ron Wilkins at rwilkins@jconline.com. Follow on Twitter: @RonWilkins2.

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