10/26/22 Michael Barnett trial, Natalia Barnett arrives to testify

Natalia Barnett arrives to testify during the trial of her adoptive father, Michael Barnett, at the Tippecanoe County Courthouse on Wednesday morning.

Natalia Barnett’s Ukrainian birth certificate said she was 7 when Michael and Kristine adopted her, but the Barnetts soon began to suspect she was much older than they initially thought.

Court records show a doctor from Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis estimated that she was about 8 when she was adopted in 2010, but Natalia’s age has been a mystery since she was discovered to be living alone in 2014.

Based on opinions from Natalia’s primary care physician and her social worker, the Barnetts had her birth year legally changed to 1989 in a Marion County Probate Court in 2012, which would make her an adult during the time of the alleged neglect.

Michael Barnett initially faced counts of neglect of a dependent based on Natalia being a minor, but those were dismissed because her legal age now means she would have been an adult during the alleged neglect. But the state is still proceeding with neglect charges on the premise that Natalia is disabled.

Superior Court Judge Steven Meyer recently declared that Natalia’s age can no longer be litigated in this trial, spurring multiple objections from deputy prosecutor Jackie Starbuck as the case began its first day of trial Monday.

The judge ruled that the words “adult,” “child,” “minor” or any other equitable word cannot be used during the proceedings, and Natalia Barnett can only be referred to as her legal age, being born in 1989.

Just minutes into his opening statement on Monday, defense attorney Terrance Kinnard apparently slipped up when he said Michael Barnett left his “adult daughter” in a Lafayette apartment.

Meyers admonished him after the jury left the room, floating the threat of a mistrial if either counsel uses that language again.

The problem hasn’t come up in trial since then.

Furthermore, the court will not allow “medical, scientific, biological or any other such evidence to contest or litigate Natalia’s age.”

Prosecutors filed a motion in the week before the trial to appeal the Tippecanoe Superior Court’s decision not to allow Natalia to be referred to as a “child” or an “adult.”

The prosecutors argued that “evidence to rebut untrue or incomplete disclosures to the jury should be permitted.”

They said the assumption that Natalia was not a minor during the time she was left alone in the apartment would be detrimental to the prosecutors’ case, and that they have more evidence to present which can prove Natalia was a minor.

The defendant’s counsel quickly countered with a motion to dismiss the entire case, arguing that the state is trying to present evidence for a crime that is no longer related to the case due to it being established that Natalia was born in 1989.

The court denied both motions on Oct. 19.

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