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Indiana couple pleads not guilty to abandoning adopted daughter, moving to Canada

Michael and Kristine Barnett say the girl, who suffers from dwarfism, is actually an adult.
/ Source: NBC News

An Indiana couple accused of abandoning their young, adopted daughter and moving the rest of their family to Canada made their first appearance in court Friday.

Kristine Barnett and her now ex-husband Michael both pleaded not guilty to two counts of felony neglect of a dependent after prosecutors accused them of legally changing their daughter Natalia's age from 8 to 22 and then leaving her alone in an apartment in Lafayette in Tippecanoe County in 2013.

Kristine and Michael, along with their biological children, then moved to Canada, according to a probable cause affidavit. They have both said that Natalia, who has a form of dwarfism, was actually an adult when they adopted her in 2010 and was pretending to be a child.

Kristine also told WISH-TV in Indianapolis that Natalia was diagnosed as both a psychopath and sociopath.

Kristine Barnett
Kristine Barnett speaks with Katie Couric on "Katie" in 2013.Donna Svennevik / Walt Disney Television via Getty

Following Friday's hearing, Kristine declined to comment on the case when approached by reporters outside the courthouse. Her attorney, Philip Hayes, told NBC News that his client is "ready for this to be adjudicated" and is looking forward to telling "her story in court."

Terrance Kinnard, an attorney for Michael, held a brief news conference following the hearing and said that he believes his client and Kristine will be "vindicated of the charges." He also told reporters that he does not believe Natalia has ever been truthful about her actual age.

The Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Office became involved in September 2014 when Natalia told authorities that she had not seen Michael and Kristine since they rented an apartment for her and left her there while they moved to Canada. Natalia is originally from Ukraine and came to the United States in 2008 through an adoption program, according to court documents.

She was adopted by the Barnett family in November 2010. Kristine told WISH-TV that she and Michael initially believed they were adopting a child. According to the probable cause affidavit, hospital records from June 2010 showed that Natalia's age was approximately 8 years old.

However, hospital records from two years later in June 2012 showed her age to be about 11, the affidavit says. That same year, prosecutors allege that Michael and Kristine legally changed Natalia's age to 22 and Kristine instructed Natalia to tell people that she looked young but was an adult.

It remains unclear how the couple was able to change her age. According to prosecutors, the alleged neglect went on from July 2013 to February 2016, when Natalia moved out of the Tippecanoe County area. They have not said where she currently is or how she was able to care for herself while she was alone in Indiana.

Kristine is due back in court in December for a pretrial conference and Michael is scheduled to appear in October for a confidential hearing, according to online court records.