A man accused of abandoning his adopted daughter in Lafayette several years ago says a Marion County probate judge heard testimony in 2012 that determined the allegedly disabled daughter was legally 22, his attorney told a Tippecanoe Superior Court judge Wednesday morning.
Terrance Kinnard, attorney for Michael Barnett, argued that prosecutors have passed the two-year statute of limitations in charging Michael Barnett and his ex-wife, Kristine, with two felony charges of neglect of a dependent.
"Law enforcement was present, testimony was heard, a learned judge such as yourself made a determination," Kinnard said. "Why should he have to defend himself from such a scurrilous charge?"
In charging documents filed in September, prosecutors say the Barnetts adopted their daughter, Natalia, from Ukraine in 2010. She has a rare form of dwarfism. They lived in Hamilton County until 2012, when they moved Natalia into an apartment in Lafayette and then moved the rest of their family to Canada.
Michael Barnett's attorney said that today, Natalia would be 29 or 30.
Kinnard said after the hearing that the documents from Marion County are sealed with a protective order, and deputy prosecutor Jackie Starbuck told the judge her office has requested the files from Marion County but has not yet received anything.
Starbuck referenced Peyton Manning Children's Hospital records, which show that doctors estimated her age to be about 8 in 2010 and 11 in 2012. She said the state doesn’t need to prove Natalia's age since it isn’t close to adulthood.
Starbuck, who said Natalia is 16 today, according to her birth certificate, also argued that the Barnetts' original petition to have Natalia’s age changed was an act of concealing evidence of their crime of neglect, which would negate the statute of limitations rule.
"It's the state's position that petition was fraudulent," Starbuck said, adding that Natalia was not represented by an attorney, guardian ad litem or CASA.
Starbuck also argued that the young woman is physically disabled, and not mentally disabled, which Kinnard took issue with.
“I do have some — just public policy concerns with — because someone is vertically challenged that that makes them disabled,” Kinnard said.
Judge Steven Meyer, who questioned Kinnard about why he would not let a jury decide the age issue, said he would take that and other motions under advisement.
Both Kinnard and the prosecutors agreed to delay a hearing on a motion for a gag order until Kristine Barnett’s lawyer, Philip Hayes, was present to represent Kristine. That hearing has been scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday.
Prosecutors filed the gag order Monday, asking that any of the daughter's health-related records the prosecutor's office does not release be kept from the public.
Kinnard said after court that he had been prepared to argue against a gag order in the case.
“Trying to gag us from keeping the public informed, I think, is a misstep,” Kinnard said, “and I in no way believe that this judge will follow that kind of dogma, where they will prevent the public from getting information.”