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Michael and Kristine Barnett plead not guilty to neglect of adopted daughter during initial hearing

The parents, and their adopted daughter, are at the center of a bizarre Tippecanoe County child neglect case that has captured worldwide attention.

Posted: Sep 27, 2019 9:36 AM
Updated: Sep 27, 2019 12:43 PM

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — An automatic plea of not guilty was entered Friday morning for Michael and Kristine Barnett, as the parents made initial appearances in the Tippecanoe Magistrate Court. It was the first time the two appeared at the Tippecanoe County Courthouse in person.

The parents and their adopted daughter are at the center of a bizarre Tippecanoe County child neglect case that has captured worldwide attention. News 18 helped break the story earlier this month. 

The home on N. 11th Street in Lafayette where court documents say the Barnett girl lived. The home is divided into several apartments. Photo: Trevor Peters

Kristine Barnett said, "no comment" to News 18's question asking if her daughter had ever tried to physically harm her. 

Michael Barnett ignored News 18's question, one that continues to go unanswered, about how the parents legally changed their daughter's age from 8 to 22-years-old.  

Now, Michael Barnett's attorney, Terrance Kinnard, wants Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Pat Harrington to be more specific on the charges. Kinnard said prosecutors need to be clear if they are targeting the girl's mental health or age.

"We certainly want to know exactly what it is my client allegedly did so that they can defend themselves," Kinnard said after the hearing.

Kinnard said Michael's feelings toward the girl have never wavered.

"They still believe that she is a person that deserves love and support. They have never deprived her of that," said Kinnard."But nonetheless they have now found themselves in this position, and of course, my clients are now legally prohibited from having any contact with this person."

Kinnard, speaking just for Michael Barnett, said Michael was shocked when the charges were filed. 

"They are still bewildered as to why they are even placed in this position," said Kinnard. We simply don't know, and again that's why we are putting the ball back in the court of the prosecutor asking for a more definitive declaration of what these charges are."

Kristine Barnett shook her head in the courtroom when a judge read the allegations to her. She said during the hearing she just retained an attorney Thursday. However, the attorney did not appear. Kristine said the attorney had another case already scheduled.

A pre-trial conference has been set for both Michael and Kristine Barnett on Dec. 27 in Tippecanoe Superior Court II. A jury trial has been set for Jan. 28.

Prosecutors allege the Barnetts, now separated, adopted the girl, legally changed her age and left her in a Lafayette apartment before moving to Canada. 

According to court documents, the Barnetts adopted a girl from Ukraine in June 2010. The girl has a form of dwarfism called spondyloepiphyseal, according to court documents. News 18 is choosing not to name the girl due to age uncertainty.

The family lived in Hamilton County, and a friend of Kristine Barnett tells News 18 the couple had a "traumatic adoption experience" with the girl. The friend said the girl tried to physically harm the family multiple times. The Barnetts soon believed they were scammed into the adoption, according to the friend. The family said the girl's dwarfism may have disguised her real age. 

Between 2010 and 2012, the Barnetts had the girl's age tested, according to prosecutors. Court documents cite two doctors' reports from Peyton Manning Children's Hospital showing the girl's age to be about 8-years-old in 2010 and 11-years-old in 2012. 

However, a doctor's report from IU Health, provided by Kristine Barnett, said otherwise. The report said the girl's records from Ukraine were "grossly incomplete."

"The birth certificate that was given to the Barnetts showed a date of birth of 9/4/3. This date is clearly inaccurate," the report said.

The report goes on to say the girl had been seen by a dentist and neuropsychologist, both of which determined she had characteristics of a full-grown adult.

The Barnetts' son Jacob, a physics prodigy, was the feature of a "60 Minutes" report in 2012 highlighting the child's successes. The boy was offered to continue his education at the Perimeter Institute in Canada. The report even appears to show the girl. 

Before they left, prosecutors said the Barnetts had the girl's age legally changed from 8-years-old to 22 in June 2012. That would make the girl 30-years-old now in the eyes of the state.

How the age change happened remains unclear, and questions by News 18 have gone unanswered. The court documents said Kristine Barnett, also known as Kristine Pearson, told the girl to tell others she just "looks young."

It was then in July 2013 that prosecutors said the Barnetts rented an apartment in the 900 block of North 11th Street in Lafayette for the girl. Prosecutors said the Barnetts paid for a year of rent, but nothing else for the girl before leaving with the rest of the family. Kristine Barnett's friend told News 18 the family helped the girl until she was ready to live on her own. The friend said the girl was living in Lafayette under the care of doctors. 

Court documents show the girl was evicted from the property in May of 2014. A law enforcement source told News 18 that "neighbors took her under their wing."

It was in September 2014 that the Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Office was notified and interviewed the girl. A law enforcement source told News 18 they were called by an employee of the Excel Center, a free Indiana public school giving adults a chance to earn an Indiana high school diploma. The Excel Center released the following statement:

"Our Excel Center school officials took appropriate action at the time. We do not release information in our records and have no further comment."

An employee told News 18 the girl actually only attended the Excel Center for four days, and she had come from many other schools. Next door neighbor Margaret Axson said she was friends with the Barnett girl in her classes. The two reportedly attended the Lafayette Adult Resource Academy (LARA) together. She said one day, the girl just stopped coming to class. 

The girl told sheriff's deputies in 2014 she was abandoned by the Barnett Family. 

The case went silent until the Tippecanoe County prosecutor filed the two neglect charges on Sept. 11, 2019. Affidavits said Michael Barnett was interviewed Sept. 5, 2019, and admitted he believed the girl was a minor in July 2013 when the couple left her in the apartment. 

Arrest warrants were issued for the parents. Michael Barnett turned himself in at the Tippecanoe County Jail and posted bond on Sept. 18. Kristine Barnett did the same thing the next day. 

Monday, Michael Barnett had a hearing in court via telephone. As we reported, Barnett wants to release mental health records. A judge set a confidential hearing on Oct. 15 to see if those documents can be released. Mental health records are protected by state statute.

The girl left Tippecanoe County in 2016, according to court documents. 

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