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Parents Plead Not Guilty To Ditching Adopted Daughter They Claim Is Actually Ukrainian Scam Artist With Dwarfism

Michael and Kristine Barnett are at the center of a legal battle after they claimed the disabled daughter they adopted from Ukraine, Natalia, was much, much older than they were told.

By M.L. Nestel
Kristine Michael Barnett

The Indiana parents accused of cutting ties with their adopted daughter to relocate to Canada appeared in the Tippecanoe County Courthouse on Friday, September 27.

Michael Barnett, 43, and his ex-wife, Kristine Barnett, 45, were in court and pleaded not guilty to two counts of neglect after they were accused of heartlessly leaving the country for Canada back in 2013 without their daughter with dwarfism, whom they adopted from Ukraine, according to The Lafayette Journal & Courier.

Central to the prosecution’s case is proving that the girl, Natalia, was indeed a child when she was left to fend for herself in a Lafayette, Indiana apartment the Barnetts set up for her — but Natalia's age is far from certain, with medical tests allegedly providing different answers and her adopted mother claiming she was an adult sociopath scamming the family.

In court, Michael Barnett's attorney, Terrance Kinnard, attempted to press the prosecution to clarify the neglect felonies.

Jackie Starbuck, Tippecanoe’s deputy prosecutor suggested the neglect charges, both felonies, can involve leaving a minor or neglecting someone because of a disability, the publication reported. 

On Sept. 18, Kinnard, filed a classified motion requesting Natalia’s mental health records be released. The defense appears to be pushing to expose Natalia’s mental health records to support the claim that their daughter had been lying about her age from the beginning and that she has a mental illness, according to The Journal & Courier. 

The contents of that petition have not been publicly released, a Tippecanoe court clerk told Oxygen.com earlier this week. A confidential hearing has been set for Oct. 15 to deal with sensitive personal information related to the mental health records.

The Barnetts were named in a probable cause warrant on Sept. 11 for neglecting Natalia. They each were formally booked and released after posting $5,000 surety bonds and $500 cash, court records show. 

Natalia became a member of the Barnett family when she was adopted from Ukraine back in June 2010 and was thought to be 8 years old. The child had a form of dwarfism called Spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita, which affects bones and impairs growth, according to the probable cause affidavit reviewed by Oxygen.com. 

Natalia apparently underwent multiple medical tests when concerns arose she was not the age the Barnetts were told. 

Back in 2010, a doctor at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital evaluated Natalia’s bone structure and determined she was “a minor child” whose age was “approximately 8-years-old,” according to the affidavit. 

A second test two years later —  months before the Barnetts moved to Canada in 2013 — purportedly showed the girl underwent a “skeletal survey” and the results concluded then that Natalia was still “a minor child.”

Despite the medical results, the Barnetts say they “legally” changed the girl's age to 22 in June 2012, according to the affidavit. 

Possibly aiding their claim is a letter, shown to WISH-TV by Kristine and supposedly written out by Michael Barnett’s Indiana University Health doctor, describing results from an examination of Natalia. 

The letter contradicted the findings from Natalia's first two doctor's visits. It suggested she wasn't a child, but was actually over 18 years old as of 2011, and diagnosed with sociopathic personality disorder.

But the letter’s authenticity could not be verified and Indiana University Health refused to discuss the matter with Oxygen.com, citing doctor-patient privacy concerns. 

When Michael was originally questioned on Sept. 5 by Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s investigators, he was probed about his daughter’s age. He allegedly said that he “believed Natalia was a minor child” at the time the family moved out of the country, according to the affidavit. 

The father also allegedly said that while the parents paid for Natalia’s rent, they “did not financially support Natalia after they left for Canada.”

Natalia was evicted from her 11th Street apartment back in May 2014, but was looked after by concerned neighbors, the affidavit states. Authorities didn't appear to learn about the Barnetts' alleged abandonment until months later.

A jury trial for the Barnetts' neglect case has been scheduled for January, according to court records.