Up to 3 years sought in Vt. custody dispute
BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A Virginia pastor convicted of helping a woman flee the country rather than share custody of her daughter with her former lesbian partner has shown no remorse and enjoys the fame the case has brought, federal prosecutors say in court documents asking that he be given 2½ to three years in prison at his sentencing Monday.
Three years is the maximum Kenneth Miller could serve for his role in the 2009 flight to Nicaragua of Lisa Miller and her now 10-year-old daughter, Isabella. Kenneth Miller was convicted on a charge of aiding in international parental kidnapping. The Millers are not related.
‘‘Because of his brazen intervention, a child — an American citizen — is growing up outside this country, and a mother must bear the unimaginable daily torment of being separated from her child, without any word on her child’s health or well-being. Kenneth Miller’s offense could not be more serious,’’ prosecutors said in documents filed in federal court in Burlington.
In their court filings, Kenneth Miller’s attorneys counter he should not be sentenced to prison because he is a law-abiding Mennonite pastor with no previous criminal record. They say he’s a leader in his community who regularly helps people, including Lisa Miller, whom he didn’t know when she came to him for help in 2009, saying she wanted to protect her daughter from her former partner’s lesbian lifestyle.
And if the judge orders that Miller be incarcerated, his attorneys asked that the sentence be delayed until an appeal is completed. In a document filed Friday, Miller said he would appeal on the grounds that the case should not have been tried in Vermont because no part of the crime or its planning occurred in the state.
Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins were joined in a Vermont civil union in 2000 and Isabella was born to Lisa in 2002. The couple split in 2003. The Vermont family court gave custody of Isabella to Lisa Miller but gave Jenkins regular visitation.
Lisa Miller then returned to Virginia, became a conservative Christian, renounced homosexuality and sought full custody of the girl. Over the years, she didn’t follow court-ordered visitation schedules. Two months after Lisa Miller and Isabella fled to Nicaragua via Canada, a Vermont family court judge transferred custody of the girl to Jenkins.
Kenneth Miller’s attorneys say the help he gave them was an ‘‘amateurish’’ and ‘‘unsophisticated’’ operation that only worked because law enforcement was not paying attention. They said his adherence to his beliefs made him an easy target for Lisa Miller.
‘‘He, along with the Amish-Mennonite community, were an easy target to be used by Lisa Miller and others helping her,’’ his attorneys wrote.
Kenneth Miller, of Stuarts Draft, Va., was convicted last August following a trial in federal court in Burlington. During the trial, dozens of his supporters packed the courtroom, and after the jury delivered its verdict, many of them stood outside the courthouse and sang hymns.
He was jailed in January for refusing to tell a grand jury investigating the roles that other people played in the flight of Lisa Miller and Isabella. The two are still believed to be in Nicaragua.
Jenkins was not expected to be in court Monday. Through her attorney, she declined to comment.