(NEW YORK) — David Barnes, an American who has been incarcerated in Russia since the beginning of 2022, will have to wait another three weeks before he returns to a Moscow courtroom.
Barnes is facing a bench trial, accused by Russian prosecutors of abusing his two sons in Texas, even though law enforcement in the Houston area previously investigated the same allegations after they were initially raised by his ex-wife and were not able to substantiate them.
“There are still no charges in Montgomery County related to David Barnes and our office will not be involved in any trial involving David Barnes in Russia,” Kelly Blackburn of the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office in Texas told ABC News.
Facing a judge
Barnes appeared in court on Tuesday as Russian prosecutors continued to present their case, but he is not scheduled to return until Sept. 4. The prosecution is expected to wrap its arguments during the next hearing, after which time the defense testimony can begin.
The Texas resident was taken into custody in January 2022.
“There is no typical day in a Russian prison,” Barnes wrote in a letter to ABC News. “But typically, every day since January 13, 2022 has been one of mental, physical, and emotional survival.”
His arrest came close to three years after his Russian ex-wife, Svetlana Koptyaeva, allegedly violated a court judgment and took the two children out of the United States.
After Koptyaeva and the children left the country, a Texas court designated Barnes as the boys’ sole managing conservator, making him their primary guardian. However, this designation was unenforceable since the children were nowhere to be found in the U.S.
Montgomery County prosecutors ended up charging Koptyaeva with interference with child custody due to the removal of the children. She is currently wanted in Texas on a felony warrant.
Barnes says he flew to Moscow because going years without seeing his children, despite being awarded custody in his home state, was unbearable.
Koptyaeva, who Barnes’ family members say contacted Russian authorities soon after he arrived in Moscow to report the same allegations she had reported in Texas, maintains that the children were abused by Barnes in Texas. She told ABC News the justice system in the U.S. failed to keep them safe, prompting them to leave the country, and that she and her sons have passed several psychological evaluations.
In March, Koptyaeva added that her sons deserve support and respect given the allegations. She noted that she was not sure whether the children would take the stand in Moscow, but that there are video recordings of their interviews with investigators and that the boys’ recollections should be believed.
Files reviewed by ABC News show that during long and acrimonious divorce proceedings, Koptyaeva brought allegations that Barnes was abusing the children to Texas authorities. Despite a search warrant being issued and investigations taking place in response to the concerns, the Department of Family and Protective Services found insufficient evidence to support the allegations and closed the case without any findings of abuse or any charges against Barnes.
In 2017, a settlement agreement between Barnes and Koptyaeva noted in part that Koptyaeva was “to refrain from making statements, either written or oral, to any third party, alleging that … [David Barnes] … molested his minor child and/or engaged in improper sexual contact with his minor child” — though she did not waive any legal reporting duties.
Although the trial in Moscow is centered around allegations stemming from Texas, prosecutors from the Lone Star State do not have any involvement in the ongoing Russian case and say they did not know that Barnes was being held in Russia on charges in association with Texas until ABC News reached out to them for comment in 2022.
Barnes has continued maintaining his innocence.
“I came to Russia because of my overwhelming love for my boys,” Barnes said. “I wanted to set up legal visitation in Russia and to visit and resume being their loving father, which had been denied for over three years.”
However, instead of a family court where child custody decisions are made, Barnes’ courthouse visits in Russia have been to criminal court.
“The chances of this happening are slim”
The trial began in November 2022, but since testimony is not occurring on consecutive days, hearings have occurred sporadically and there have been several delays.
Unlike with many other Americans who are detained in Russia, the public and media have been prohibited from entering the courtroom during Barnes’ appearances since the allegations involve minors, but Barnes was seen by an ABC News reporter being led through the courthouse in handcuffs following Tuesday’s hearing.
“I expect the judge to see the absurdity of the allegations and to rule ‘not guilty,’ but I’m told by my attorney the chances of this happening are slim,” Barnes wrote.
Joey Reed understands what the consequences of those slim chances can result in. His son, Trevor Reed, was held in the same Russian detention center where Barnes is currently being held. After Trevor Reed was convicted, he was sentenced to a penal colony before he was able to return home through a prisoner exchange.
Joey Reed has since been in touch with the Barnes family so they can compare experiences of having a loved one detained in Russia.
“It sounds like an open and shut wrongful detention case to me,” Joey Reed said, calling on the U.S. government to take more action. “We need them to step up for David Barnes and some of these other Americans, just like they have for Trevor and Brittney Griner.”
A State Department spokesperson told ABC News their representatives in Moscow have visited Barnes six times since his arrest, with the most recent visit occurring in March. Unlike with other Americans held in Russia over the years such as Reed, Brittney Griner, or Paul Whelan, U.S. officials have not announced whether they consider Barnes to be wrongfully detained.
“We are monitoring Mr. Barnes’ case closely, and we remain in regular communication with Mr. Barnes and his family and legal team.” the State Department spokesperson added. “The Department continuously reviews the circumstances surrounding the detentions of all U.S. nationals overseas, including those in Russia, for indicators that they are wrongful.”
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy has already visited Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter who is also detained in Russia, three times since his arrest in March. Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared Gershkovich’s detention as wrongful within weeks of his detainment.
Koptyaeva says she believes Barnes’ detention is not wrongful, while Barnes strongly disagrees and is hoping that his case does not get forgotten.
“I would implore officials in Washington to use whatever political power they have to free me and reunite me with my boys,” he wrote.
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