Man ends extradition fight in Montana

Robert Barnett accused of abducting son in Fernie.

Robert Barnett

David Murray/Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune

In a surprise move Tuesday, a man arrested for abducting his son in Canada and then fleeing with the child across the border into the United States has ended his fight to avoid extradition.

Robert Barnett initially refused voluntary extradition back to Canada, where he is charged with abduction and theft over $5,000 in relation to an Amber Alert issued on Nov. 16 for his three-year-old son Alvin.

Barnett appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Strong in Great Falls on Tuesday morning for a hearing originally scheduled to review Barnett’s request for bail. However, midway through that proceeding Barnett’s attorney announced his client had reconsidered his opposition to extradition.

“This is, at its heart, a child custody issue,” federal public defender Hank Branom told Judge Strong prior to Barnett’s decision. “He believes he has a legitimate claim to legal custody of his child. That’s why he brought him here to the United States.”

“It seems to me this is an issue that’s going to have to be resolved in Canada,” Strong replied. “We can’t resolve it here in the U.S.”

Strong also informed Barnett’s attorney that the court had recently received documents from the Canadian government stating they do not intend to file any additional criminal charges against Barnett.

Following Strong’s comments, Barnett consulted briefly with his attorney, who then announced his client had decided to consent to extradition.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Whittaker offered no objection to Barnett’s change of heart, but did request a 10 minute recess to consult with the trial attorney for the U.S. Office of International Affairs.

Upon his return, Whittaker informed the judge that his office would draw up the necessary paperwork, which would then be forwarded to U.S. State Department for processing.

Whittaker said it would likely take 30 days before an order is issued to return Barnett to Canada.

On Nov. 16, Montana authorities issued an Amber Alert for Barnett and his three-year-old son, Alvin, after the two crossed into the United States at the Port of Roosville, south of Elko. According to a complaint filed by the U.S. District Attorney’s Office, Barnett fled with his son from a supervised visit at the hotel where Barnett lived and worked in Fernie.

“Barnett told the Ministry of Children and Family Development supervisor that he was going to take his son to the lobby of the motel to get a movie,” the complaint states. “RCMP later learned Barnett had signed out a motel staff vehicle and driven away with the child.”

Barnett, who is a dual citizen of Canada and the U.S., was arrested in Whitefish, Montana, two days later

after he approached a man outside a bowling alley asking for money and the use of

a phone. The man agreed

to buy Barnett breakfast the next morning and to allow him to sleep in his car

outside the man’s home. The Whitefish resident subsequently called 911 to report Barnett after realizing he

was the subject of an Amber Alert.

Deputies from the Flathead County Sheriff’s Department arrested Barnett on the morning of Nov. 17 without incident. Three-year-old Alvin Barnett was found unharmed, and has since been returned to Canada.