BURLINGTON, Vt. — A federal court on Tuesday found a Virginia Mennonite minister guilty of aiding and abetting in an international kidnapping case, by assisting a woman embroiled in a child custody case with her former lesbian partner to flee the country with the couple’s young daughter.
According to federal prosecutors, Kenneth Miller of Stuarts Draft, Va., helped orchestrate Lisa Miller’s flight to Canada and ultimately to Nicaragua in 2009, despite court orders from family courts in both Vermont and Virginia that ordered Ms. Miller to honor visitation and custody orders. (The two Millers are not related.)
Lisa Miller took the girl to Central America after denouncing homosexuality and losing a series of family court battles in Vermont with her former partner, Janet Jenkins.
The high profile case has attracted attention from both anti-gay “family values” organizations and legal groups, along with support for Jenkins from LGBT advocacy groups, including Lambda Legal.
Reuters reported that the jury deliberated only a few hours before finding Kenneth Miller guilty, who now faces the possibility of three years in prison although no sentencing date was set. Miller showed no reaction as the verdict was announced.
Joshua Autrey, a lawyer for Kenneth Miller, did not dispute evidence about his client’s role in organizing Lisa Miller’s secretive flight days before a court-ordered visitation with Jenkins.
Instead, the defense attorney offered a nuanced legal argument that his client did not know about her intent to violate Jenkins’ visitation rights. The attorney said Kenneth Miller helped her leave the country ahead of an anticipated Vermont family court ruling granting full custody to Jenkins.
An Amish-Mennonite pastor who worked in his family’s garden-supply business, Kenneth Miller contacted Mennonites to drive Lisa Miller and Isabella to an airport in Canada in 2009 and pick her up in Nicaragua where the group runs a mission, according to court documents.Reuters →
Jenkins and Lisa Miller were joined in a civil union in Vermont in 2000. Two years later, after in vitro fertilization, Miller gave birth to their daughter, Isabella.
Lisa Miller increasingly embraced conservative Christian ideals and eventually renounced homosexuality; she filed to dissolve the union with Jenkins in 2003, and although she gained custody of Isabella, a Vermont court gave Jenkins visitation rights.
Lisa Miller was indicted on international kidnapping charges in 2010, but U.S. Marshals, ICE, and FBI agents have been unable to locate her or her daughter.
Nicaragua does not have an extradition treaty with the United States.