The age of an allegedly neglected, adopted Ukrainian girl left in a Lafayette apartment six years ago is still unknown to everyone but Natalia herself, according to father Michael Barnett’s lawyer.
“That information we believe is unknown to anyone other than the individual alleged to have been a dependent,” said lawyer Terrance Kinnard of Indianapolis.
Kristine and Michael Barnett, who adopted the girl in 2010, appeared at an initial hearing at 8:30 a.m. Friday pleading not guilty to two charges of neglect of a dependent.
“We do believe that at the end of it, both Mr. Barnett and Kristine Barnett will be vindicated of these charges,” Kinnard said.
He said that whether Natalia can actually be considered a dependent or not is still unclear.
During the hearing, prosecuting attorney Jackie Starbuck defined the legal term “dependent” as not just those under 18 years of age, but also those with certain emotional or mental disabilities.
Kinnard responded that they were seeking Natalia’s mental health records, and that “throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks” doesn’t work when it comes to charging defendants.
“We are in the position of filing a motion asking for a more definitive declaration of what the actual dependency of this person is,” Kinnard said.
Kinnard said this would help figure out whether age or disability is a factor in the case.
"We are at a loss because we don’t believe either of those things truly exist from a legal standpoint," he said.
The attorney requested that Michael’s personal information, like address and birth date, be redacted from the public record due to the high-profile nature of the case. Magistrate Daniel Moore denied the request.
Both Michael and Kristine Barnett signed no-contact orders during the hearing, which bars them from reaching out to Natalia in any way.
Kinnard said afterward the defense plans to speak with the girl through a deposition process in the near future.
He said that it’s been a “fair number of years” since Michael and Kristine have had physical contact with Natalia. Michael still believes she “deserves love and support” and has never wavered in his feelings toward her, according to Kinnard.
Still, the two are “victims of fraud or ruse perpetrated back when they were first requested to adopt this individual,” Kinnard said.
While Kristine’s charges were being read to her, the judge noted that according to affidavits, Kristine specifically instructed Natalia, before allegedly abandoning her, to tell others that she merely looked young and was actually 22.
At this, Kristine shook her head, but didn’t say a word.
Kristine’s lawyer was not present during the court proceedings. She said she retained him Thursday and he was unavailable for Friday’s hearing. She did not comment on her way in or out of the courthouse.
Natalia has not commented in any way on the proceedings.
The parents both have pre-trial conferences set for Dec. 27 and jury trials set for Jan. 28.