Gag order granted in Barnett case


A judge granted a gag order Monday to restrict two parents and their attorneys from making specific statements about the adopted daughter with dwarfism they allegedly abandoned in Lafayette.

Superior Court 2 Judge Steven Meyer said no statements regarding medical, mental health or educational records or the alleged victim's character or credibility can be made to the public before the trial. But defendants can make general statements about the case and their innocence, according to Meyer.

The judge said he will rule on the extent to which the victim, witnesses for the prosecution and others will be included by the end of the week after both sides have submitted their official suggestions.

Meyer questioned where the line should be drawn on the gag order, as the state's original motion only included the defendants. He said it would be difficult to keep those outside the case from commenting on it.

Any comments that have been made to the media as of Monday but have not been released will not fall under the gag order, Meyer said.

Prosecutor Jackie Starbuck argued the defendants were using the media coverage to their advantage to sway public opinion. 

"They are trying to try this case in the media," she said, "and poison the public against (Natalia)."

Starbuck listed a number of interviews the Barnetts had given since the case became public, including appearances on "Dr. Oz," "Good Morning America" and British program "ITV This Morning," among others. Additionally, she said, the defendants had released a doctor's letter to the media as well as an unsigned copy of a petition in a Marion County case.

Starbuck noted the only thing the state publicized was the probable cause affidavit. She said the information the Barnetts have released since intentionally misalign the girl with information that may not be admissable in a court of law.

Michael Barnett's attorney, Terrance Kinnard, claimed the affidavit included sensational language that maligned the Barnetts' characters.

Meyer made clear that the overall quantity of the coverage was more the issue here than the truth of the statements within the articles. Kinnard said on one particular day, 110 new articles about the case were found in a Google search.

Meyer said he thinks the case meets the standard for a gag order. According to the state's original motion for a gag order, a gag order can be issued if there is a "reasonable likelihood that pretrial publicity will prejudice a fair trial."

He added any alternative measure to remedy the trial would be insufficient. Meyer listed change of venue, a delay of trial, strict jury instructions and sequestering the jury as measures that would have little value to protect the integrity of the case because the case has been covered by national and international media outlets. 

"In some ways, the cat is already out of the bag," he said.


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