July 4, 2023
Hungry for a scandalous docuseries served with a side of Chicago restaurant show hot takes? Don’t miss this episode! Ashley welcomes veteran legal analyst Beth Karas from The Curious Case of Natalia Grace to answer all of Ashley’s burning questions on the too-bonkers-to-believe docuseries streaming now on MAX. But first, Ashley gives her thoughts on season 2 of The Bear and how embracing its characters over the city of Chicago helps this season shine—but sorry, The Bear is still NOT a comedy!!!
What We Watched:
The Curious Case of Natalia Grace
I’m a Virgo
Take Care of Maya
The Battle for Justina Pelletier
Project Runway All Stars
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S2E50 — The Curious Case of The Bear w/ Beth Karas
Ashley Ray [00:00:28] Hello, and welcome to another episode of TV, I Say with me, Ashley Ray. And today I’m talking to someone everyone has been waiting for me to talk to–Beth Karas. We are getting into Beth Karas. If you are not my mom or someone who is obsessed with Court TV, you might not know Beth Karas is the legal, brilliant mind behind my favorite documentary of the year, The Curious Case of Natalia Grace. You all were like, “Come on, we got to get to the bottom of this. We have so many questions about this documentary.” So, I had to bring Beth on because Beth is the expert. We get into all of it. And yes, and we get into the Part Two, Natalia Speaks. You’re waiting for it. You want to watch it. It’s coming up this summer. But before we get into all of that, I want to do my little watchlist. You know, Beth is a very busy and important person, so she’s not sitting around watching TV when she’s a lawyer who is actively saving lives. So, I’m going to do my own little watchlist. You know, there’s so, so, so, so, so much TV that has come out. I personally want to give a shout out to I’m a Virgo on Prime video. I absolutely love this show. I feel like it is getting lost in the mist of The Bear Season Two with all of its guest stars. But I’m a Virgo just premiered on Prime Video, and it is so great. And it just felt so refreshing and unlike anything else I’ve seen on TV. So, if you haven’t checked that one out, I don’t want to give too much away on it because I will say it is about a very tall man who is a Virgo. I don’t want to give too much away. It is an interesting watch if you just jump into it. So, I think that’s another reason people haven’t been discussing it, you know, too much. But it’s great stuff. And then yes, I know I mentioned The Bear Season Two–it’s out. I was lucky enough–blessed–to be in the beautiful city of Chicago when The Bear Season Two came out. As some of you may know, I’m a Chicago girl, grew up in northern Illinois, lived in Chicago for eight years. Family from here. I love Chicago. And as much as I enjoyed the performances and story of The Bear Season One, what I took issue with was its portrayal of the city that was often inaccurate, completely made up, and incorrect. So, with Season Two, you know, being in Chicago, people in New York and LA were like, “Hey, you’re in Chicago. That’s so cool. Are people doing The Bear viewing parties? Like, it’s a huge thing, probably, right?” And the thing is, you see, The Bear is not a show for people from Chicago. People in Chicago truly were like, “What is that? What are you talking–? No, I don’t– Yeah, whatever.” You know, the Chicago media people are like, “Yeah, we got to watch it.” But most people in Chicago are truly like, “We don’t know what that is.” It is an LA, New York show. It is a show for people on the coasts that happens to be set in Chicago. You know, it’s not really about the city. It is truly a show that could have been set anywhere that I think most Chicagoans feel happens to be set in Chicago. But what I liked about this second season is that they put most of the Chicago stuff to the side. They aren’t trying to make it a Chicago show. They’re not trying to convince us that Carmy does Miller shots, okay? They’re not trying to do all that. They just really focused finally on the characters, particularly the secondary characters like Tina, Marcus. We get more of their stories, and that to me, is what makes Season Two stronger than the first season. If you watch it as a character study, it is a wonderful, wonderful show. If you watch it as a show about a restaurant in Chicago with a plot that makes sense, I don’t know if it’s as successful. But as a character study of just, like, incredible, incredible actors doing very emotional things about their lives–it’s great for that. It’s wonderful. I love what they did with the Copenhagen episode. And, you know, I believe Ramy Youssef–who is a friend of the pod, who has been on the show–directed that episode and said that he didn’t want to capture just the top five things you could Google in Copenhagen, which made me go, “You should let Ramy direct the whole show because why did you just include Chicago as, like, the top five things people Google?” It’s really like, “Oh, Chicago architecture tour. There’s the building from the Wilco album. The Sears Tower. Like, that’s the whole place.” You know, they did get Margie’s Candies in there. The one up in Logan Square or the Bucktown location, depending on how you want to draw your divide there with the Armitage Street. And, you know, that was cute. That’s my old hood, you know. But it still is like there’s a specialness to the city that you have to have someone from Chicago in your writers’ room to really capture. And it is another season that tells me they failed on that front, but they did do a wonderful job crafting a show around these characters, their emotional development, their arcs, the dynamics between them. And at the end of the day, that is what matters to most people, right? This is a show viewed by people all over the country. It does not need to specifically be for Chicago people and make us happy. So fine. You know, again, I would say if the show was set in Pittsburgh, it would be one of my favorite shows because I wouldn’t be annoyed at every turn that they call Kim Fox “Kimberly Fox.” They say “Kimberly Fox, the DA for the City of Chicago.” And it’s like, “you mean the Cook County district attorney? What?” Like, literally every show I was like, “Who are they talking about?” And then it’s like, “Oh, right,” because this is a show for people from LA who don’t know what Cook County is. They have to be told, “City of Chicago.” Okay. When I started this pod, I think I did, like, a nine-minute rant on all the things The Bear got wrong about Chicago. And I think for Season Two, that about does it. That’s all I really have to say is it was stronger because they focused on characters. They put the city to the side. And I will say a lot of my Chicago friends–I have friends here who are cooks, restaurant chefs at restaurants in the West Loop–most of them did love that the food this season was far more authentic to Chicago food. They did actually shoot the restaurant scenes in West Loop. They didn’t, you know, shoot in New York and LA and then try to, like, use B-roll footage, you know, like the first season. They accidentally used B-roll footage of the wrong city. This time they just came to the actual city and shot. How beautiful? So, a lot of people were happy that they actually did highlight Chicago–actual food–the West Loop. You know, we do have incredible food here. And the first season really made it seem like people in Chicago would be like, “Risotto? What’s that?” So it was, in that aspect, way better. They did a better job with our food. There were no Italian beefs that made me want to, like, scream. It was fairly, I think, foodwise, more accurate. So, you know, by Season Four, maybe they’ll realize the show should’ve been in Avondale, and we’ll have ourselves a real Chicago show. And maybe they’ll actually be a comedy at some point, too. You know, I think that is also the other thing that really bothers me about it is that The Bear is just in no way a comedy. Like, it is just a drama. Like, Ramy is a comedy with dramatic aspects. The Bear is just a drama that sometimes makes a joke. Like, Succession is more of a comedy than The Bear. But hey, you know, go with comedy; it’s easier to win some awards–get nominated in those categories–you know? Who’s trying to be in the drama category, right? You know, go up against the big guys. So hey, The Bear Season Two–I think that’s all I got to say about it. I will say I spent most of my time in Chicago actually watching documentaries. I do want to mention a few since, hey, this is going to be a doc-heavy episode. We got Beth. You know, we’re talking Curious Case of Natalia Grace. So, I want to tell you about Take Care of Maya, a documentary I watched on Netflix. It is not a series. It is a one-off; it’s, like, an hour and 40 minutes. It’s a movie. But it’s incredible, and it looks at this girl who was basically kidnaped by All Children’s Hospital, John Hopkins, when her family was falsely accused of Munchausen by proxy–making her sick on purpose. And the doctors just refused to believe that this girl actually had the illness her parents said she had. And it just spirals into this just disaster that is so, so sad and will make you want to burn down, you know, all of the American medical industry because… Why? What? Like, it’s just truly you watch, and you’re like, “Oh, so they just don’t care about parents or, like, kids at all. They don’t care about families. This is all wild.” And after you watch that one, go watch The Battle for Justine Pelletier, which is on Peacock and is about the same thing. This one is about a 14-year-old girl who goes to Boston Children’s Hospital, and they believe her mom is making her sick on purpose. They don’t believe the parents when they are like, “She has mitochondrial disease.” And they end up basically harming this girl and making it worse. The parents don’t get custody for 14 months. And it finally comes to an end when an anonymous–like Anonymous, the group–computer hacker hacks the hospital to try to save the girl. And then finally they’re like, “God, just give her back to her parents.” But that one is a documentary series. It is four episodes. It’s wonderful. So, I would say watch the two of those because I’m going to be doing a dueling doc segment on the newsletter about those two docs because goodness, did they teach me so much. I am afraid to have children and take them to a hospital now. I want to burn down the medical system. It’s just a lot. Also, on a lighter note–and because some of you know that I do consider some reality shows to be documentaries–I’ve been watching Project Runway, the new All-Star Season, where Christian Siriano is the host. And I absolutely love it. I don’t recognize half of the contestants because I stopped watching Project Runway at Season Eight. But the people from Seasons One through Three–some of my favorites–I absolutely remember watching them in, like, middle school and high school. So, hey, to me that counts as a documentary. I’m seeing where they are in life right now. So that’s my little watchlist. You know I’ve been on tour. I fall so behind on TV when I’m on tour. And I have some things I gotta catch up on. I know you’re begging me to watch Based on a True Story. You’re begging me to watch all these other things, and I’m going to get to them, okay? I promise. As soon as I’m back home, I’m locking myself in my apartment, I’m catching up on all the TV, and we’re going to get into it. Okay? And also, before we head to Beth Karas, you know, recently I had Jason Mantzoukas on, and we talked about Paramount+ and how great they’ve been doing. He was singing the praises of Star Trek: Prodigy. And I was, you know, absolutely elated about Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies–I’ve not hit my love and obsession over that show. So, imagine my surprise when, you know, a few weeks ago they announced that they are canceling Rise of the Pink ladies and Star Trek: Prodigy–and not just canceling them, but completely removing them from the service. It’s like as soon as we said that they were doing something good over there, Paramount+ was like, “Okay, let’s mess it up. Let’s just mess it up.” So, I just want to give a heartfelt R.I.P. to two amazing shows that deserve better than this. I don’t know if you’ll still be able to go watch Rise of the Pink Ladies. If it’s on Paramount+, go watch it before they take it down. I guess they’re going to try to ship it, you know, to some other places–see if any other spots might be interested. But it’s just scary this is the TV world we live in right now, so just hold on to what you love because who knows? You know one app that doesn’t remove anything? Discovery+. Okay, baby? They are rocking it out with these investigation Discovery docs. And my favorite one, The Curious Case of Natalia Grace. We will be getting Part Two. Natalia Speaks, this summer. But until then, let’s talk to Beth Karas about the ins and outs of this wild, wild documentary, The Curious Case of Natalia Grace. If you have been following me, listening to the podcast for the past few weeks, you know, I’m absolutely obsessed with the new Max docuseries, The Curious Case of Natalia Grace. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s about a young girl who gets adopted from Ukraine and ends up with the Barnett family. I’ll just start there because we’re going to dive deep in with this episode because today, I am joined by a veteran legal analysis attorney and Court TV correspondent who does an amazing job in the series, breaking down Natalie’s case, and also has done an amazing job breaking down nearly every Court TV case I’ve watched my entire lifetime. Beth Karas, welcome to TV Club.
Beth Karas [00:13:41] Thank you for inviting me, Ashley. Although I am former Court TV now. I pop up there now and then, but I was there for 19 years. And now I do other stuff.
Ashley Ray [00:13:50] I am so aware. I have to tell you, my mother and I–huge fans. When I told my mom I was interviewing you, she went, “Beth is in our house every single day. Don’t mess this up, Ashley. This is Beth. You have to get it right.”
Beth Karas [00:14:05] Well, I’ll make sure you are getting it right. Don’t you worry. Say hi to your mom.
Ashley Ray [00:14:09] Thank you so much. She’s absolutely… I mean, I’ve interviewed Gloria Steinem, and she’s just like, “I don’t care about those. Beth. You’re interviewing Beth Karas. This matters.”
Beth Karas [00:14:20] That’s nice to hear.
Ashley Ray [00:14:21] Yes. So, The Curious Case of Natalia Grace–how did you first stumble upon this? What kind of drew your interest to this case?
Beth Karas [00:14:30] Well, just the one- or two-line summary of the story is enough to draw me or anyone into it, right? A little person is adopted from Ukraine in 2004–2006, rather–by a family in the United States. And then they unload her two years later to the Barnetts that you mentioned. And the Barnetts are like, “Wait a minute. We don’t know if she’s really a child or an adult, okay?” That was like, “Really? You’ve adopted somebody who might actually be an adult, and you think you have a six-year-old child? So that did it for me.” But I was brought into the story by the people who were doing the deep dive investigation on the production company because they needed a voice on air to help tell the story and sort of raise the questions that the viewers are asking. And believe it or not, I was kind of learning the story along with the viewers. I went on the journey, too. And they’re recording… Several different times, I sat down with them. They recorded my journey like it’s your journey through it, right? So, I’m reacting very, very genuinely to stuff that I was learning, like, “What did I just read? What did you just tell me?” So I was, you know, of course, going to jump on the project when I was asked to be a part of it because it’s such a fascinating story.
Ashley Ray [00:15:56] The first episode really focuses on Michael Barnett, the father, and his experience in the story of this. And watching the first episode–like you said–I was on a journey. That first episode, I was like, “Well, clearly she’s an adult. I’m completely convinced. Oh my gosh.” And I had heard about this when it happened at the time and just kind of always believed like, “Oh yeah, that story from years ago. She was an adult, right?” I had no idea that other evidence had come out. Why do you think the myth of Natalia truly being an adult has been so lasting? Why is that what the mainstream remembers?
Beth Karas [00:16:32] Because the narrative was controlled by the Barnetts. And Natalia just wasn’t getting her story out there properly. Maybe she didn’t know how to–she didn’t have the tools to. I mean, at the time that she’s being interviewed–some years ago already–she’s just barely an adult if you believe that she was a child at the time the Barnetts got her, right? But regardless of her age, she was not controlling the narrative. She just did not know, I think, how to get her story out. And the Barnetts took total control. And they had, you know, a detective where they lived believing that Natalia was an adult. They had a judge re-aging her. They had at least one doctor who was on their side. So, they had corroboration for their position. And that’s what the public was learning.
Ashley Ray [00:17:29] It’s just so scary to me that the people can focus on one side of the story and not really understand that it’s going to take years for Natalia to be in a place where she can speak. And we’re getting that this summer, Natalia Speaks. So, I know there was some pushback–people believe the first part pays too much attention to Michael. It puts him at the center. I felt like that was allowing Michael to give himself enough rope to hang himself, kind of. He continues to talk. He continues to tell sort of stories that go against each other. It’s not always the same story. Things change. How did you feel about Michael’s interviews in this documentary?
Beth Karas [00:18:10] So it was, like, halfway through the production that I was even told that there was a second set of interviews with Michael because they were happening as I was learning the story and being interviewed for them earlier, you know, the first time. So, there was the 2019 interviews with him. And then, like, three years later, he’s all of a sudden saying something very different. Now, there was a gag order at one point, but a lot of Natalia’s story could not be told because she’s paying attention to the prosecutors. She’s paying attention to her authorities–the people on her side who are not representing her but, you know, handling her case as a victim. They’re like, “Yeah, you know, you don’t want to talk. This has to be tried in a court of law, not in the court of public opinion.” Michael, however, was talking before, during, and right on the eve of trial. I mean, we follow him right up through the trial. And he was talking with the understanding that nothing would air until the trial was over and nothing came out during the case. So, he kind of controlled the narrative, even from our perspective to a certain extent. I mean, he was the voice–and his son. So, they were the Barnett side. And, you know, we were waiting for the trial, you know, for Natalia’s side. And Natalia testifies, but there’s no camera, right? And what we were able to do was get as much documentation as possible to support one side or the other. But the trial was really important evidence that was going to be introduced into the trial because HIPAA laws would prevent us from getting medical records unless Natalia allowed it or if they were introduced into evidence and not under seal or something. So, there’s really limited information that we could find through public records requests unless one side or the other gave us the records and consented to it. So, you know, you can’t assume that all the information out there is available to investigative journalists, but a lot more is available now, actually. I just want to say a lot more is available now that Michael’s trial is over and Kristine’s charges have been dismissed, and that information is being analyzed right now.
Ashley Ray [00:20:22] Yeah, and I think that’s what I really want to focus on next. I think for me, as an outsider going through this journey, I was like, “They have the birth certificate. They have the mom. What else is the debate here? Why can’t they call her a child in court? Why can’t this be brought up”? We go through this whole trial where we see, you know, Michael’s lawyers, Kristine’s lawyers, finding ways to not call her child–to say, “Oh, your 22-year-old daughter. You know, make sure you refer to her this way.” And we see even a doctor just kind of lose his mind, going, “Why can’t we tell the truth? She’s a child.” Can you kind of explain the breakdown of how that happened? Because I think so many viewers just couldn’t understand how that could happen in a court of law.
Beth Karas [00:21:06] Well, I will explain it. But I will tell you the bottom line is it was a judge’s decision on what evidence was admissible or not. And the judge said, “I’m not allowing the age issue to be relitigated. It’s been handled before–not in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, where the trial took place, but in a different county.” I think it was Hamilton County, which is where the re-aging took place. Now, the re-aging took place in 2012, right around the time of the creamery incident when the Barnetts say that Natalia tried to pull Kristine into an electric fence. That all gets explained in one of the episodes–fence wasn’t even on.
Ashley Ray [00:21:44] I think we get Michael’s very dramatic retelling of it, and then they actually interview one of the EMTs who was there, and he’s just like, “None of that.”
Beth Karas [00:21:52] It wasn’t right. It was the mother, Kristine, who was the most dramatic person. So, Natalia gets hospitalized. As it turns out, she’s hospitalized for dehydration. We learn that, too. Like, she wasn’t feeling well. She was dehydrated. Like, she wasn’t getting enough water, food, whatever. And so, she’s hospitalized. And they go in with an emergency petition within a few weeks. Natalia has no idea, presumably. And they get her re-aged. Okay. So that happens in 2012–the summer of 2012. Fast forward a few years. And soon after that, they dump her in her own apartment. They’re like, “You’re an adult now. You’re going to live on your own.” First, one apartment in 2012. And they don’t reup her lease; they don’t re offer her a renewal. So, they move her to Lafayette about an hour away–what Kristine calls a “white trash community.” Real nice.
Ashley Ray [00:22:45] Yes. Really got the neighborhood upset. That really made the town angry.
Beth Karas [00:22:49] And so depending on who you believe, she’s either nine or ten at that point or, you know, 14 years older. Natalia actually did go into court like three or four years after–I don’t remember the timeline exactly–after the re-aging to try to get it undone and to have more of a full-blown hearing on her true age. It turned into basically a rubber stamp of what the first judge did. The second judge said, “You know, I find you’re an adult.” One of those judges said to her, “You better start acting like one.” So, she did try to get it undone, and it got reaffirmed. So now–fast forward to Michael’s trial in 2022–and that judge is like, “Look, it’s already been determined by two judges in a different county but in the state of Indiana, I’m not undoing it. I’m not going to relitigate it.” And it really tied the hands of the prosecution. I mean, half the charges were for child neglect. The other half were for neglect and abandonment of a dependent person, which includes a person with a disability–a dependency. I mean, a child is a dependent, too. But those separate charges, though–the child charges–had to get dismissed. And what survived were the neglect and abandonment of a dependent person. And jurors felt there was reasonable doubt, I think–I mean, I haven’t talked to any jurors–probably because she did actually survive on her own. So how dependent was she?
Ashley Ray [00:24:29] And I think that was sort of people’s biggest gotcha on Natalia is if she really was a child, how did she manage to live alone all those years? And, you know, she was okay. How did she manage to feed herself? And I thought the documentary did a great job of outlining how she was struggling, how neighbors saw her struggling to eat, that she didn’t have food, that she wasn’t doing her laundry, that, you know, she wasn’t washing her hair. It was clear she couldn’t take care of basic things that an adult would need to do. So, I kind of was curious why Natalia’s actions weren’t brought into the case–why people weren’t allowed to say, “It’s clear she doesn’t know how to use an oven or a stove. It’s clear, you know, that she has this level of learning ability. Or look at her writing; it’s clearly a child’s handwriting.”
Beth Karas [00:25:19] So I mean, that’s a really good question, Ashley. And I don’t have the trial transcript, so I can’t say that that wasn’t because she did testify. But the bottom line is she still was able to get food from a little corner store. Granted, it was processed and maybe needed to be heated up, but she was still able to feed herself. The Barnetts, you know, by then–this is 2013–were living in Canada, so it’s not like they were checking in on her physically. But she was getting some supplemental security income, but it was only a few months at that second apartment before the man’s family that lived in the neighborhood across the street, I think, saw, like, “What is this child? Who is she?” And they took her in, like, very, very quickly. So, she didn’t have to live for long in the Tippecanoe County apartment. And then they’re the ones who really… I mean, they gave her a stable home, and they’re the ones who got her, you know, the proper attention on the case. And the authorities started looking at it; they’re like, “What is going on here?”
Ashley Ray [00:26:26] And it seems in the footage we see of Natalia with them, she does seem better taken care of, happier, more put together. I think a lot of people still to this day say Natalia is a scammer–she’s scammed the Barnetts–she just wanted to live off of them forever, which to me doesn’t make sense because if they bought her an apartment, didn’t check in with her for a year, wouldn’t that have been the successful scam? Like, wouldn’t she have just stayed in the apartment and been great and not brought attention to herself? Why do you think people want to believe she’s a scammer?
Beth Karas [00:27:03] Well, you know, I don’t know how to answer that actually. People have their own opinions. I mean, there are people who are just always going to see her through that prism–that she was an adult masquerading as a child. You can just say, “Oh, well, there was a lot of corruption in Ukraine. So those aren’t accurate records. They were doctored. The records were doctored. I mean, there are people who believe that that birth certificate that says she was born September 4, 2003, isn’t an accurate document. And so, you know, people are going to believe what they want to believe. But when you look at the evidence, it certainly seems to point in the direction that she’s a child. But you know what? More will come to light, and we’ll see if that is wrong–that she really was born much before 2003.
Ashley Ray [00:27:53] For me, I think the moment that, on this journey–like you said–I was on Michael’s side, then I go flip flop… And finally, I think when they brought in Anna Gava, Natalia’s mom, and they did the DNA test. And it was very clear, in order for Natalia to be born in 1985, I believe her mom would have had to be ten years old, which was impossible. And so, I was curious, is there a way that Anna would have to come to an American court or something that could be done if Natalia was to be re-aged? Could they bring her?
Beth Karas [00:28:29] Well, I think that presents a lot of logistical problems right now just because of the war in Ukraine. But I don’t know that they would have to do that. I suppose they could. It would be expensive and perhaps dangerous just because of the war. But I think, you know, with her, she was on Zoom for the second interview, even though, because of rolling blackouts, it didn’t last. They did get her DNA. There are records that were obtained before the war by the prosecutor and the detectives who went there. I don’t think we’ve seen all of them. So, I think that will probably be enough if the court takes notice that these are official records and certified.
Ashley Ray [00:29:09] And what reason would her mom have to lie about this? You know? That’s my thing is what reason would Anna have to lie about the age of this child?
Beth Karas [00:29:19] Right. I mean, she said very spontaneously, I think it was to her twin, “I’ve been dealing with this for 17 years.” And that was in 2020 that she said it. Remember, I say that in the series; I say, “Well, do the math. “You know, if she made that statement in 2020 and she’s been dealing with it for 17 years, then Natalia was born in 2003, which is what Natalia had said that’s what the birth certificate says. So, I don’t know why her mother would want to lie unless she was, like, paid off. I mean, I guess a cynic could say, “Oh, she got a lot of money.” But who’s paying her? And for what?”
Ashley Ray [00:29:54] Yeah. For what? You know, it doesn’t seem like the Barnetts have deep pockets like that, so…
Beth Karas [00:30:00] And they weren’t the first family–they didn’t adopt Natalia from Ukraine. The Ciccones did, out of New Hampshire. They’re the ones who adopted her.
Ashley Ray [00:30:12] And that was another question. So, this other family adopts her, and the Barnetts story of how they get Natalia seems a little unclear. And I know recently the adoption agency that Michael said, like, called them and said, “Hey, take this child,” put out a statement saying what Michael said is a lie. “We’re going to charge him for lying. That isn’t true. We did not work with them on their adoption.” Is this typical–these sort of unchecked American adoptions? It seems like the family that had her before was just going down a list of names to get rid of her.
Beth Karas [00:30:50] So I would be speculating if I were to give an answer as though I know what I’m talking about. I can only say that this does not seem to be common. Closed adoptions do occur. Black market, you know, selling of babies does occur. I’m not saying that that’s what this is. But this whole narrative in the series was pretty much Michael’s, right? It was Michael saying it. There was not any cooperation from the adoption agency is my understanding. I didn’t call them, but I believe that there was an attempt to reach them. And there was like, yeah, no comment. But now that this is out there and his side is out there, they say, “Okay, we gotta respond. Like, this isn’t true.” So, I mean, he said, “We had 24 hours to get there before Natalia was going to be put into foster care. And we didn’t want that to happen. So, we just got on a plane–the whole family–the three boys, mom, and dad.” And he goes through a very detailed description of that day, and it was one of the happiest days of his life, when this little girl comes running in. “Mommy, daddy. Mommy, daddy.” And, you know, that’s just the beginning of their journey.
Ashley Ray [00:32:03] That’s just the beginning. I would like to talk about the Kristine of it all. Kristine is a huge figure in this documentary, even though she is not in it–declined to comment. To me, what we see of her is so villainous almost, that she just seems kind of like a caricature. She’s so evil. And I know most of it is Michael, you know, giving us his side. So of course, he’s going to try to make her seem, you know, extra evil. But I know she ran a daycare center prior to having Natalia. And I was curious if producers sought to see if there were any issues with her daycare–if the children she had watched had ever had issues. Or was she just considered, like, a wonderful daycare provider, and everybody loved her?
Beth Karas [00:33:06] So I would have to ask them to answer that. But I think it’s probably the latter. I think it was very successful. And it was for special needs children. Their oldest son, Jacob, who is just a super genius, is also on the spectrum. And so, it was for children like that, which was great. She converted her garage, and I really applaud that work that she did. But there was another side to her which Michael portrayed–not in his first interview in 2019. It was all on Natalia in that first interview.
Ashley Ray [00:33:40] Yeah. In 2019, it’s all, “Well, Kristine has lupus. She’s so weak. She could barely even move Natalia.” And then later it’s: “Oh, she was so strong. She could pin Natalia down and punch her to the ground,” as he shows us very dramatically.
Beth Karas [00:33:55] Right. So, like, I was really scratching my head with his second interview, saying, “What? Like, I don’t want to believe you; you kind of lost your credibility here because you’re really telling two different stories.” I mean, you know, there’s a part of me that thinks that maybe he was also, you know, manipulated or controlled by her–by Kristine. It doesn’t excuse his behavior. It might explain some of his behavior. But I think she was kind of the stronger force in the household.
Ashley Ray [00:34:24] And we kind of get an idea of that with Jacob and his interview. There’s a moment in, I believe, Episode Four where they’re asking Jacob to speak on the abuse he saw Natalia face. And he doesn’t want to talk about it. He says, “I need a moment.” He steps away, doesn’t realize his microphone is on, and we get to hear him talking to his dad about someone being thrown down the stairs–how he’s afraid to say things because he doesn’t want to get in trouble or have his mom face new charges. I couldn’t believe what we were hearing. It was kind of like the Jinx moment of the documentary, for me, where you’re like, “Okay, things aren’t what they seem. I was trusting Jacob and his father. Now I see things aren’t right.” What did you feel when you saw that moment for the first time?
Beth Karas [00:35:10] So I know a lot of people out there think that this was staged, but it was not. This was genuine. It happened. And it was not staged. I thought, “Oh my God. They actually are colluding and deciding what they’re going to tell the producers and then what they’re going to hold back.” So, you know, again, it’s an example of the two Barnett family members controlling the narrative of what we learned as viewers. But there’s going to be more in the next round to see how much of that is corroborated or refuted.
Ashley Ray [00:35:50] Right. And I mean, everyone who watches this documentary says, “We need a Part Two. We need more.” You know, you end on so many questions, even though it does feel like, “Oh… But she’s clearly a child. What is the issue?” But when I saw that Kristine’s charges had been dropped, I just couldn’t believe it. Could you kind of explain the decision to drop those charges?
Beth Karas [00:36:14] So I believe it’s because the evidence would be similar in a trial against Kristine, with the exception of Michael. Michael was subpoenaed to testify. Since he had been acquitted, he didn’t have a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. He could have been forced to testify against her. And even though there is a marital privilege that would have prevented maybe some of their communications, it wouldn’t have prevented any communications that went to the crimes–if the crime was afoot. It can be an exception. But they may have just felt, you know, rolling the dice was just not worth the judicial resources and time and that it’s essentially the same case. And maybe a jury that had acquitted Michael might not have found him all that credible in Kristine’s trial. They may have felt that he was just somebody who was going to point the finger at her to save his own skin and he was just going to embellish. And so, he wasn’t going to be as credible a witness for the prosecution. So, I think they just probably felt they didn’t have enough proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Michael’s trial was a test for that. They tried him separately, I suspect, because… It’s the same evidence. They could have been tried together, but Michael has so many statements against Kristine that they needed to sever the trials and let him have his own trial. And then she’d have her own, and he’d testify against her.
Ashley Ray [00:37:39] And after Michael’s trial, he’s found not guilty. He comes running, crying, and walking out of the courtroom, saying, “Oh, they could tell immediately. They knew I was so innocent. They knew that I had nothing to do with this. They didn’t need any time to decide I was innocent.” And then one of the jurors is interviewed and is basically like, “We all thought he was guilty. Based on what we could judge on–on the perimeters we were given–we couldn’t say guilty. But we all thought he was guilty.” How often do you see that happening? It just seems so frustrating to me that a jury can just literally believe someone is guilty and is just hamstrung and can do nothing about it, and this person gets to walk away thinking I’m so innocent.
Beth Karas [00:38:26] So I’ve seen it a few times in cases, like, I tried or cases I covered at Court TV. I talk to jurors who are like, “Yeah, we all thought he did it. There just wasn’t proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” So, it’s frustrating. But also, I like knowing that the system works. Like, 12 jurors are told, “You better all believe every element of the crime or crimes have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict.” And we want the system to work. And so, it worked in Michael’s case. They’re like, “Yeah, we thought he was guilty, but there just wasn’t enough evidence.” It would have been a different verdict if the jurors knew about the re-aging–if the jurors could have seen the evidence the prosecution had that she was actually a child. They didn’t get that. So, you know, this is the way the system is supposed to work. It’s frustrating, but…
Ashley Ray [00:39:16] But the fact that it’s so frustrating–what are we supposed to do? You know, I think so many of us–when that documentary ended, and you see that the charges were dropped against Kristine–just want to scream. I just immediately was like, “How do I fight for Natalia? What can I do to get her justice?” I mean, her story is so just, for me, a crossroads of sort of everything that’s wrong with this country–how we fail to help people who are dependent and in need–how we failed children. And it’s just everything layered on top. And I’m just going, “What do we do? How do you deal with those frustrations and show support or try to reform this kind of legal system?”
Beth Karas [00:39:55] So, I mean, you’re asking me a loaded question, Ashley. I don’t know how I can answer that. There are ways you can help Natalia. You can just work, and you can just sort of Google her name and you can find ways that you might want to reach out and help her or the Mans family. But, as far as the system is concerned, I’m sure the judge who re-aged her… Well, I can’t say, “I’m sure.” But I wonder if the judge who re-aged her is now questioning the decision. And also, the second judge who looked at it, given the blowback from the series and information, I suspect, is going to come out–and some is already dribbling out there–that she may really have been a child. And to take an eight-year-old and tell an eight-year-old, “You’re 22.” Or maybe she was ten years old. I mean, think about ten-year-old children you know? I mean, are you kidding me? You’re going to tell them, “You got to go live on your own now”? And you have a physical disability on top of it and need surgeries? She needed surgeries for her feet and her hips.
Ashley Ray [00:41:01] And it was so clear when they are showing… I also love how the documentary gives us this sort of inside look at how defense attorneys work. I mean, Michael’s lawyers–some of that footage–I was just like, “They’re so evil.” They’re calling her names. There’s a video of her clearly struggling to move a trash can. And you can tell she’s wobbling–maybe, like, something hurts–and his lawyer is just like, “That looks like a grownup moving a trash can.” And just you can tell they’re trying to grasp at anything they can. And I know that’s their job as defense attorneys. How does it feel to watch that? You’re a lawyer. You know that’s the game. But to see it just so blatant…
Beth Karas [00:41:43] Yeah. I’m so jaded by advocacy in the courtroom. I mean, I was an advocate for the state–for the prosecution. And I know what defense attorneys do when win or loss comes because of the great advocacy of one side over the other. They could just take that evidence–the same evidence that the other side’s arguing–and just can convince you that one side is right. But yeah, I mean, it’s frustrating. That trash can video you’re talking about–I mean, that trash can’s twice her height, right? And she’s really trying to pull it along. And she’s in pain. I mean, this was a person, regardless of age, who was in pain because of her hips and her feet. I mean, she was in pain on the day of the creamery incident. And that’s what she said when she talked to the forensic interviewer who was in the series. Her feet hurt, so she sat down on the grass because she was in pain. I mean, they should have had a wheelchair for her. She’s in a wheelchair today.
Ashley Ray [00:42:46] Today. Yeah. And it just seems like no one at any point in her life thought about what sort of trauma or pain Natalia might have been in. I know that she goes to a mental institution for a bit. And the nurses in the institution say that she’s highly sexual–that they felt she was an adult. And others have said, you know, that is a sign of child sexual abuse. You know, that can be that someone else has been harming her. Did you feel that that could have been brought up more in the documentary, or will we see more of that when Natalia speaks?
Beth Karas [00:43:23] I think we’re going to see more of that, I suspect. I don’t know that there was more that could have been done in the documentary series that’s out now. But I do remember the prosecutor, Jackie Starbuck, tweeting during the series because I was watching it the first time it aired, right? And I’m following the Twitter feed. And Jackie Starbuck goes, “Who are these people? Who are these nurses? Who are these hospital staff?” And Jackie wrote this. She said, “The medical records don’t support what they’re saying. The records, the notes,” she said, “don’t support what these people are saying. Who are these people? Because their names weren’t used.”
Ashley Ray [00:44:00] Yeah. Their names weren’t used.
Beth Karas [00:44:00] They didn’t want to be identified. No, I’m sure they were telling the truth from their own experience. But Jackie Starbuck, the prosecutor, was a little confused because she said, “This is not in the notes.”
Ashley Ray [00:44:10] Oh my gosh. That is good info, listeners. I had no idea that she had come out and said that. That’s… Wow.
Beth Karas [00:44:17] Oh, she says a lot. She responds to the series throughout. She’s no longer a prosecutor. She left after Kristine’s case was dismissed. I don’t know the circumstances of it. She’s not at that office, I should say. And she didn’t cooperate at the time because she’s getting ready for trial. So, she responds to questions people were raising during the series. So, take a look.
Ashley Ray [00:44:43] Wow. Before we shift gears a little bit, I want to get into the final sort of revelation of this documentary series where we find that Kristine had tried to set Natalia up on a date with a man she had been sort of flirting with on Facebook. And he sort of seems to allude to the fact that perhaps there was a level of abuse or something between Michael and Natalia. That’s sort of our big cliffhanger. What do you think that scene or moment is sort of speaking to?
Beth Karas [00:45:15] So I’ve not seen what Freddie Gill… He is the person you’re talking about. He’s a little person also. I’ve not seen what he actually said. I wasn’t made privy to that. So, I was kind of left with the same impression you have. But I don’t know that that actually really happened. It’s just Freddie was repeating what Kristine told him.
Ashley Ray [00:45:38] Yeah.
Beth Karas [00:45:39] And, you know, take that for what it’s worth. You know, is Kristine telling him the truth, or is she telling him something to get him to maybe want to get a little piece of the action, too?
Ashley Ray [00:45:51] Yeah. You know, it was clear she had a lot of lies to tell. And it seems to me that Michael’s response at the end is when we really sort of see this rising violence in him. You know, there’s the moment with the baseball bat where we see him, like, gripping that baseball bat. And then when they give him the laptop, and they’re like, “This might make you angry,” he’s just like, “What if I break your laptop? What if I throw it?” And you see how sort of out of control of his emotions he can be. Have you seen that a lot in other documentaries you’ve worked on or just other interviews with people who are trying to defend themselves? To me, it just seemed like he was so defensive. He was so upset and just angry.
Beth Karas [00:46:36] Yeah. I mean, he’s been through a lot in his life, right? I mean, his oldest son talks to him but not his two youngest. And he’s been through a lot. He had a lot of things materially. And then, when he went down, he had nothing. 37 cents in the bank, remember? But he always manages to have a nice car. But to answer your question about if I’ve seen anything like that before, I mean, I’ve seen people walk away from an interview–just get upset about something but not acting out physically or threatening something physical. I’ve just seen people get disgusted and walk away.
Ashley Ray [00:47:08] Yeah. You know, I just thought, like, he should just walk… But it would always be this interesting response of, like, the physical–trying to stay in it and address it, and… Just an odd energy for the Barnetts sort of–all over the place.
Beth Karas [00:47:23] I just can’t imagine what it was like being in that household because while Natalia was living with them and–from their perspective–terrorizing them, 60 minutes is in the house doing a story on Jacob, right? I mean, there is that 60 Minutes piece that they did in 2010-11. And there’s a wide shot of the family at a table, and you do see little Natalia at the table. And Kristine wrote a book–or she had a ghostwriter. But she wrote a book called Spark or something. And, you know, she homeschooled her kids. And, you know, she’s offering advice for homeschooling children. And she credits herself with some of Jacob’s success. I think he was just a genius. But in that book, which is about their family, there’s, you know, no mention, I understand, of Natalia. So, like, they didn’t really make her a family member, it seems. But maybe they were alienated very early on by her behavioral problem. I think she did have behavioral problems.
Ashley Ray [00:48:29] Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I think we hear she was bounced around between something like ten houses before she ends up with the Barnetts, which, you know, even if she’s two years older than you think, that’s still very traumatic. That’s something that is a condition you would have to consider when you’re taking that kid in. And it seems like the Barnetts never stopped to consider, “Hey, is this a girl who is dealing with trauma? Does she need a therapist?” They just jumped right to “she’s lying about her age.” And I think there’s a part in the documentary where you say the only real reason they had to suspect her age was that she had pubic hair. Like, at the end, when you look at it, that’s the only evidence they had, which isn’t particularly strong evidence. There’s, you know, prepubescent puberty. There’s all sorts of reasons.
Beth Karas [00:49:17] Yeah, “precocious puberty,” they call it. I don’t know the explanation for that, by the way. I mean, that’s pretty young–six years old for it. But there are cases–eight, nine years old.
Ashley Ray [00:49:28] Yeah. And I know her current family says, like… Kristine said that Natalia had a period. Her current family says she’s never had one. There’s just so much all over. There’s conflicting opinions. I love this documentary for clearing so much of it up. And I can’t wait for Natalia Speaks–cannot wait for Natalia Speaks–to get the rest of the information. I love this new sort of wave of true crime that’s looking at popular stories that were so misunderstood because I think that can be helpful–that is changing opinions and educating people. Whereas I think a lot of true crime sometimes recently has just been, “Oh, well, we got Casey Anthony. So here is her side of things. You know, let’s give her a documentary.” How do you sort of feel about the current true crime landscape? And there’s sort of conflicting desire to shed a light on stories that people don’t know the truth about, but also the dangers of giving people who maybe shouldn’t have a platform a platform.
Beth Karas [00:50:27] So, of course, the subset of this genre you’re talking about for me is wrongful conviction. I mean, they’ve been around–and the attempt to tell those stories–for a long. And that is telling a story that hasn’t been told. It’s like, “There’s no evidence,” or “This is what was suppressed at the trial, and the jurors didn’t hear.” And I don’t think there’s enough attention on wrongful convictions. And we do have, unfortunately, enough of them, you know, out there. I like to think that today–with forensic science where it is–it’s happening less and less often. But there were plenty of wrongful convictions pre-DNA and forensic science as we know it today. So those stories are always trying to show the other side and the truth, right? But in terms of stories like, say, Natalia’s, I do love this new area because it’s a new way of sort of getting into a story and also sort of peeling back some of the layers and seeing, like, where things went wrong or where things were misunderstood. I don’t know. There’s a lot of them out there. I don’t know that there are a lot of Natalia-type stories out there. I hope not.
Ashley Ray [00:51:48] I think this is a one of a kind.
Beth Karas [00:51:51] Pretty, pretty unique. But there are plenty of stories that need to be told and deserve to be told. And so, I hope we find a lot of them.
Ashley Ray [00:52:01] Yeah. Did you watch the Casey Anthony Peacock documentary?
Beth Karas [00:52:06] I have not watched Casey Speak. I know that case so well. I just have not watched her interview yet because I just can’t bring myself to do it. But I will. I’ll watch it eventually.
Ashley Ray [00:52:19] I kind of wondered if there may be some trials that just keep getting brought up over and over again that you’ve covered that you’re like, “I’m really sick of it, okay? I’ve heard enough about Scott Peterson.
Beth Karas [00:52:30] I don’t get sick of Scott Peterson. Look, I am a big supporter of Innocence Projects, the Innocence Network, all over the country. And anyone who is innocent and is in prison for a day, like, we should lose sleep over. I mean, that’s an injustice. But he’s not one of them. That’s all I’ll say. Okay?
Ashley Ray [00:52:58] Yeah. You know–who killed Laci Peterson–in the documentary, it points different fingers and was a little convincing. And I told my mom, “I don’t know. Maybe I think someone else–” And she was like, “No. He did it.”
Beth Karas [00:53:09] The A&E documentary?
Ashley Ray [00:53:10] Yeah, the A&E documentary.
Beth Karas [00:53:13] No, I made a list of all the errors in that. I made a list with a Modesto Bee reporter. He and I covered it. We’re like, “Oh my God, we need to do a podcast and just rip through these things.” But we never did it.
Ashley Ray [00:53:24] Oh my gosh. You have to do that. I know so many people who have been convinced by that documentary that he’s innocent.
Beth Karas [00:53:29] No! No. That was told from the perspective of Scott’s sister-in-law, who was in law school at the time. And she’s got this whole, like, timeline thing going on. No. Please. There are so many errors.
Ashley Ray [00:53:40] Oh, okay. See?
Beth Karas [00:53:42] Based on my knowledge of the case, and I was at the trial every day.
Ashley Ray [00:53:44] I mean, yeah, that’s what my mom said. I was like, “I don’t know, mom. This doc–” And she was like, “No. Beth told me he did it. Beth did her work. She knows.” Beth, I want to thank you so much for joining me today. Truly, I am such a fan of your work. Like my mom said, you’ve been in our house every day. Like, I feel like I grew up watching you. You taught me how to think critically about things, to ask questions that are tough, and not to be afraid to speak up and to say, “Hey, I think this is the truth. I think we need to question this.” So, thank you so much. This documentary particularly blew my mind. I am yelling at everyone to watch The Curious Case of Natalia Grace. Is there anything else you’re working on that you want to let us know about?
Beth Karas [00:54:29] I have a podcast coming out in the fall through Anonymous Content and iHeartRadio, so I’m working on that right now. I’m co-hosting it. But I’m always looking for stories also, just like you, you know? And I’m looking for stories that are impactful–where telling it can make a difference in someone’s lives, in many people’s lives, or in the system, which is what I think The Curious Case of Natalia Grace does. It’s making us look at the system–from adoptions, international adoptions, U.S. adoptions, to re-aging, the criminal justice system, and why this case ended up the way it did in the courts.
Ashley Ray [00:55:10] Exactly. And where can people follow you to get those announcements?
Beth Karas [00:55:15] So you can find me using the common spelling of my name, Beth Karas, on Facebook, on Twitter, Instagram. I think I’ve put a number one next to– bethkaras1 on Instagram. I never use TikTok, but I have an account. That’s it. Yeah. I’m not very good with social media. I’ve got to be better, especially if people want to hear from me.
Ashley Ray [00:55:37] We want to hear from you, Beth! Yes, we want to hear from you! We want all of your thoughts on everything that’s happening with every legal case all the time.
Beth Karas [00:55:48] Well, you were a great interviewer.
Ashley Ray [00:55:50] Aw! Thank you.
Beth Karas [00:55:52] So congratulations to you. And thank you for inviting me.
Ashley Ray [00:55:54] Oh my gosh. My mom is going to be so happy you said that. Thank you so much for joining us today. And The Curious Case of Natalia Grace–all episodes are now available on Max. And this summer we will see. Natalia Speaks Part Two. TV, I Say with Ashley Ray is an Earwolf production made by me, Ashley Ray-Harris. It’s engineered by Abby Aguilar, produced by Scott Sonne, executive produced by Amelia Chappelow. And our original theme song is by RaFia. It means so much to me if you go rate, review, subscribe. Follow TV, I Say. Let us know what you think and tell your friends. Share with your Golden Girls. Tell your Boys. If you love my TV recommendations, let everyone you know know. For special TV Club members, join my Patreon. And you can also find my full archive of ad free episodes of TV, I Say over on Stitcher Premium. Use Promo code “tvisay”–all one word–for a one-month free trial at stitcher.com/premium
February 13, 2024
Composer Sam Haft (Hazbin Hotel) joins Ashley Ray to talk about Tina Fey’s comments about authenticity, Wil Wheaton vs Larry David vs Elmo, and royal conspiracies before getting into their watch lists and talking about making the music for Hazbin Hotel!