Pastor guilty in same-sex union custody case

Associated Press
Supporters of Rev. Kenneth Miller stand outside federal court in Burlington, Vt., Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012. The pastor from Virginia was convicted  of helping a woman flee the country three years ago, when she was on the brink of having to turn custody of her young daughter over to the woman who was once her partner in a Vermont civil union. The jury issued its verdict against the Rev. Kenneth Miller after several hours of deliberations in the case, which has drawn broad attention because of the legal and religious questions it raised about same-sex unions and child custody, and because the mother and daughter remain at large. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring)
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — Just moments after a Mennonite pastor from Virginia was convicted of helping a woman flee the country rather than share custody of her daughter with her former same-sex partner, scores of his supporters poured out of the courthouse and began singing hymns.

It was their way of showing support for the Rev. Kenneth Miller, of Stuarts Draft, Va., after he was convicted Tuesday of aiding in international parental kidnapping, a high-profile crime that could send him to prison for three years.

As his supporters sang behind him, Miller said he was disappointed in the verdict but respected the decision in the case, which has drawn broad attention because of the legal and religious questions it raised about same-sex unions and child custody.

"I am willing to accept the consequences of my actions," said Miller, 46. "I am at peace with God. I am peace with my conscience and I give it over to God."

Miller was convicted of helping Lisa Miller and her daughter, Isabella, leave the country in September 2009, a month after a judge indicated he would turn custody of the girl over to Janet Jenkins, of Fair Haven, Vt., if Lisa Miller continued to defy a series of visitation orders.

The verdict against Kenneth Miller doesn't end the case.

As the jury was deliberating, Jenkins filed a lawsuit against both Millers and other people and organizations associated with the case, seeking unspecified monetary damages.

Kenneth and Lisa Miller are not related. Lisa and Isabella, now 10 years old, were last known to be in Nicaragua.

Kenneth Miller will remain free pending sentencing, although he was ordered to surrender his passport. He said an appeal would be up to his attorneys, who left the courthouse shortly after the verdict was read.

Jenkins was not in court at the time, but her attorney said she is pleased that Kenneth Miller was being held accountable.

"She hopes that the verdict will send a message to those who continue to aid and abet Lisa Miller in Nicaragua," said attorney Sarah Star. "Her greatest hope is that the government's efforts will lead to Isabella's safe return to Vermont."

During three days of testimony, prosecutors used cellphone records and sometimes-reluctant witnesses to lay out a broad network overseen by Kenneth Miller that helped Lisa Miller and Isabella travel first to Canada and then Nicaragua.

Prosecutors said Kenneth Miller arranged for another person to drive the two from Virginia to Buffalo, N.Y., where they crossed into Canada and were picked up by an Ontario Mennonite who took them to an airport. After they arrived in Nicaragua, prosecutors said, the two were cared for by American Mennonites who felt they needed to protect Isabella from what they considered a sinful lesbian lifestyle.

The U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with Nicaragua. The country is not a signer of the 1980 Hague convention on international child abductions, which is designed to return children illegally taken from member countries.

Lisa Miller and Jenkins entered into a civil union in Vermont in 2000, shortly after the state became the first to legally recognize same-sex relationships. Miller conceived the child through artificial insemination, and both acted as parents.

Lisa Miller later became an evangelical Christian and renounced her homosexuality. A child-custody case went to Vermont family court in 2004, after the couple dissolved the civil union. Lisa Miller, who moved to Lynchburg, Va., was given primary custody of Isabella, with Jenkins given visitation rights.

Lisa Miller appealed the case for years, but ultimately the courts in Virginia and Vermont determined the case would be bound by the Vermont family court order. A weekend visitation had been scheduled three days after Lisa Miller and Isabella fled.

Charges were dropped in October against an American Mennonite missionary living in Nicaragua, Timothy Miller, who is not related to the other Millers. Prosecutors said that Timothy Miller helped Lisa Miller reach Central America after being asked to do so by Kenneth Miller.

In brief but emotional testimony, Jenkins gave an overview of her relationship with Lisa Miller and a history of some of her visits with Isabella between the time the couple split up in 2003 and Lisa Miller and the girl left the country on Sept. 22, 2009.

Jenkins last saw Isabella in January 2009.

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