Crime Watch 8

Warrants issued for Indianapolis parents accused of abandoning adopted daughter

Arrest warrants issued in neglect case

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Warrants were issued Tuesday for parents accused of leaving their adopted child alone in a Lafayette apartment and moving to Canada.

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

News 8 helped break the story last week, including exclusive details from the mother charged in this case. On Friday, we uncovered footage of the family involved on national news program “60 Minutes,” where they spoke about their son, Jake, a child prodigy, and which appeared to show the girl briefly.

Investigators say the Barnetts left the girl, who has a form of dwarfism called spondyloepiphyseal, at an apartment on North 11th Street in Lafayette beginning in July 2013. The charges allege the couple’s neglect continued through February 2016.

No one came to the door when we knocked at Michael’s home on Michigan Road Tuesday evening.

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The warrant for Kristine lists an address in New Palestine that has not appeared on other court documents. News 8 learned it is the home of Kristine’s sister, who said Kristine does not live there.

Kristine has declined interview requests, but did provide a copy of an emergency petition she and her husband filed to legally change the girl’s birth date.

That petition could provide an answer to one of the biggest puzzles in the case: How was a girl’s age legally changed from 8 years old to 22, and how does that change affect the neglect charges against her adoptive parents?

Kristine gave News 8 an undated and unsigned copy of the “Verified Emergency Petition for Change of Birth Date of Foreign Born Adopted Child.”

While WISH-TV cannot independently verify the document, it is referenced in neglect charges filed in Tippecanoe County last week against the Barnetts.

By law, the Marion County Probate Court cannot provide any information about adoption proceedings, including verifying the emergency petition.

Attorney Michele Jackson confirmed with News 8 by phone that she helped the Barnetts submit the petition and is one of the only experts in the country who deals with age change requests of this nature. She said requests to change an adopted child’s age are rare but do happen.

The petition states the Barnetts believed the girl was 7 when they adopted her in 2010 from another American family who had brought her from Ukraine.

In the petition, the Barnetts said they began to notice unusual behaviors and physical characteristics that didn’t match the girl’s documented age. They believed her to be an adult, viewed her behaviors as dangerous and thought she posed a threat to their family and to society.

The petition argues that changing the girl’s birth date would help her receive appropriate adult assistance, including for her diagnosed case of schizophrenia. It claims mental health clinics that had previously treated her would no longer admit her because they did not believe she was a child.

The petition cited the girl’s doctor and her licensed clinical social worker, who both said they believed she was at least 22 years old. News 8 reached out to both professionals last week for interviews, but those requests were ignored or denied.

Charging documents against the Barnetts show a Marion County judge granted the petition on June 12, 2012.

So far, Tippecanoe County authorities are continuing to pursue the neglect charges against the Barnetts. News 8 shared the petition with Prosecutor Pat Harrington and asked for comment but as of Tuesday had not heard back.

Jackson said she would not speak further about the Barnetts’ case without both parents signing off.

Jackson said she guessed the state of Indiana processes about one age-change petition for an adopted child each year. For a judge to grant the request, there must be evidence, often in the form of bone density scans, dental records or psychological evaluations.

Usually a request for an age change is connected to an adoption in a foreign country and can be connected to poor birth records, or malnutrition effects, which can disguise age. When a child is adopted and starts eating better, they can have a significant growth spurt that leads their parents to ask for them to be officially a few years old to better fit in with their classmates.

According to Jackson, a 14-year change, as in the Barnetts’ petition, is very rare.