9/27/19 Barnett initial hearing

Michael Barnett’s lawyer, Terrance Kinnard, speaks to members of the media while Barnett watches.

The couple accused last year of neglecting and abandoning their adopted Ukrainian daughter is now facing more severe felony charges.

Kristine and Michael Barnett were charged on Dec. 27 with additional felonies based on their alleged neglect of a dependent resulting in bodily injury, after they left their adopted daughter Natalia Grace in a Lafayette apartment and departed to Canada, according to court documents. Their previous charges were less severe neglect of a dependent allegations.

The elevation of the charges from a Level 6 Felony to a Level 3 one reflects the more serious implications of the alleged years of neglect Grace faced. 

Grace, who has a rare form of dwarfism, has lived with another local family since then.

But a key element of the case remains unknown: Grace’s true age.

Her age was legally changed from 11 to 22 in Indiana courts in 2012, according to Michael Barnett in court documents. The couple told Grace to tell others she was actually 22 and just looked young, if asked during her time alone in Lafayette.

Since the Barnetts' story hit national and global newsstands last year, a woman in Ukraine has come forward claiming to be Grace’s mother, according to court documents. As she would be able to testify regarding her alleged daughter’s age, the State has asked the court to grant a DNA test to prove the woman’s maternity and thus verify Grace’s true age.

The DailyMail interviewed Grace's alleged mother in October about the girl's actual age. The Ukranian woman said that Grace is only 16, and that she had to give her up to adoption due to Natalia's dwarfism, according to the DailyMail.

The task of getting Grace’s DNA is made more difficult by the fact that, though she doesn’t object to such testing, as according to the Tippecanoe County court she is a minor and would have to have the signatures of her legal guardians, the Barnetts themselves. The State has thus asked the court to authorize Grace providing DNA samples through a mandated court order.

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