10/24/22 Michael Barnett Trial, walking through rotunda

Michael Barnett walks through the rotunda of the Tippecanoe County Courthouse during a recess in his trial on Monday afternoon.

Jackie Starbuck seemed flustered.

After being admonished by the judge for loudly interrupting a witness, the deputy prosecutor re-asked her question in cross examination.

“You testified that you drove her to the library because she couldn’t walk that far, correct?” she asked.

Starbuck stood beside the witness box, pointing to a deposition transcript from earlier this year.

Next to her sat Desirita Bussell, the home health aide who Michael and Kristine Barnett hired to take care of their Ukrainian adopted daughter, Natalia, in 2012 while she lived alone in an apartment in Westfield, Indiana.

The defense began calling its witnesses Wednesday afternoon after the prosecution rested its case a day and a half into the trial against Michael Barnett, Natalia Barnett's adoptive father. Michael is charged with neglect of a dependent who is disabled after he and his wife, Kristine, rented Natalia a Lafayette apartment and left for Canada less than a month later. Natalia has diastrophic dysplasia, a type of dwarfism that also causes malformed bones throughout the body.

Bussell testified Wednesday afternoon that she was hired to help Natalia with what she called “activities of daily living,” or ADLs.

Some of the ADLs she described helping Natalia with included cooking, cleaning and bathing.

In addition to showing her how to cook, clean and bathe, Bussell said she drove Natalia around to the library and the grocery store.

She said the only things Natalia needed help with after a bit of instruction were shampooing her hair, because she couldn’t reach the back of her head, and taking her clothes out of the laundry machine, because she couldn’t reach the bottom.

Starbuck asked Bussell if Natalia was scared of Kristine, but her question was objected to as speculation.

Starbuck rephrased, asking whether Natalia was “reserved” around Kristine.

“She was always quiet,” Bussell replied. “She was always reserved.”

Starbuck approached the witness box, pointing to Bussell’s deposition transcript, in which she said Natalia was “kind of reserved” around Kristine.

She then asked if the two’s interactions were positive or negative.

“I’m just going by speculation,” Bussell answered, “so I don’t know.”

Starbuck asked if Natalia complained of leg pain.

“She didn’t complain a lot of pain ...”

“I didn’t ask if she complained a lot,” Starbuck interrupted.

Bussell paused.

“She complained of leg pain,” she said.

Starbuck then asked whether Bussell drove Natalia down the street to the library because Natalia couldn’t walk that far, again approaching the witness box.

“It was partly because I didn’t want to walk,” Bussell began before Starbuck interrupted her again, raising her voice to ask whether she testified in the deposition that Natalia couldn’t walk that far.

Defense attorney Terrance Kinnard objected because he said Starbuck was badgering the witness. Superior Court Judge Steve Meyer told Starbuck to let Bussell finish before asking more questions.

Westfield Police detective Brett Bays testified earlier in the day that he was called for a well-being check to Natalia’s Westfield apartment in 2012. While there, Bays said he made a routine check to ensure the house had running water and that Natalia was able to make herself food, use a cellphone and call for help if she needed.

Starbuck added in her cross examination that the call for the well-being check was actually sent to Michael Barnett’s home, and that the check had to be redirected to Natalia’s apartment by Michael.

Bays told Starbuck that he doesn’t recall observing any wheelchair, walker, braces or specialty shoes designed for Natalia's deformed feet.

Once done with the check, Bays said he sent an email back to the Westfield Police Department saying Natalia should be treated as an “endangered individual” if there was ever another 911 call to her house. Starbuck asked Bays if he meant that Natalia wasn’t able to care for herself and was therefore in physical danger.

But Bays said he didn’t mean it that way.

“My intent was that the officers pay special attention to (her),” he clarified. “It was to bring attention to the situation, not to label her as an endangered adult.”

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