Lawyer says couple accused of abandoning adopted child were victims of fraud

Crime Watch 8

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The man accused of leaving his adopted child alone in a Lafayette apartment in 2013 and moving with his wife to Canada turned himself into authorities Wednesday.

Michael Barnett also shared his side of the story through his attorney Terrance Kinnard. The lawyer said the Barnetts were the victims of a fraud when they adopted a Ukranian-born child in 2010.

According to Tippecanoe County court documents, Barnett, 43, and his ex-wife Kristine Barnett, 45, face a pair of felony charges for neglect of a dependent.

News 8 helped break the story last week with exclusive details from Kristine. On Friday, News 8 uncovered footage of the family on the national news program “60 Minutes,” where they spoke about their son, Jake Barnett, a child prodigy. The episode also appeared to briefly show the adopted child.

In June 2012, a Marion County judge signed off on an emergency petition from Michael and Kristine Barnett to change adopted child’s age from 8 to 22. The girl was born in the Ukraine, court documents said.

(News 8 is not identifying the victim in the case because she may be a juvenile. Attempts to find the victim have been unsuccessful.)

Investigators say the Barnetts in July 2013 left the adopted child, who has a form of dwarfism called spondyloepiphyseal, at an apartment on North 11th Street in Lafayette.

A doctor has said the dwarfism could have masked her actual age.

The criminal charges allege the couple’s neglect continued through February 2016.

The Barnetts divorced in 2018, according to court records, and remarried in 2016.

Michael’s attorney said Wednesday that the Barnetts were presented with an orphan in need who they initially believed to be a child. But as they learned more, the Barnetts believe they became victims of a fraud.

“This is a bizarre case,” Kinnard said. “It reminds you of a Lifetime movie.”

On Wednesday evening, Michael turned himself in and, about an hour later, walked out of the Tippecanoe County Jail after posting a $5,000 bond. He was escorted out by his current wife and his attorney.

“We are in a holding pattern,” Kinnard said. “We know what we know. We don’t know what we don’t know.”

Most key elements of what we don’t know from the case being built by Tippecanoe County prosecutors who were confident enough to file charges of neglect:

>> The emergency petition to change the adopted child’s age, a document which News 8 cannot independently verify, states the child’s behaviors were a threat to the Barnetts and the community. Kinnard would not elaborate on what that meant.

>> News 8 also asked Kinnard about the Barnetts’ decision to leave the adopted child in Lafayette, a place far from their home in Hamilton County, so they could go to Canada for their son’s education as a child prodigy.

Kinnard is confident other options were considered before the Barnetts left for Canada.

“Knowing the character and benevolence of this individual, that decision would have been made with lots of forethought and consideration,” the attorney said. “It was not a decision they would have come to lightly.”

Kinnard said he has no contact with Kristine. The lawyer also said the charges surprised Michael, who found out when prosecutors reached out to him. Kinnard said he is confident prosecutors have some good evidence to pursue a case, but added that everything his client has told him has been verified medically and legally.

The lawyer said he is very confident Michael has a strong case that the adopted child is an adult. Kinnard said, “100 percent.”

Kinnard said contradictory facts certainly exist, but it is a legal fact that the person at the center of this is legally an adult.

Beyond that, the lawyer said, the case is in the discovery phase so he is waiting for the prosecution to share its facts and theories so he can better respond.

Email messages left with the Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Patrick Harrington on Wednesday were not answered.

Kristine has declined interview requests since Sept. 12 and referred News 8 to her attorney, who has not answered phone messages left with him.

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