BURLINGTON -- A Virginia pastor facing federal charges he helped a former Vermont woman flee the country with her child will probably try to argue he didn’t know she was fleeing so she wouldn’t have to share custody with her former lesbian partner, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
During a court hearing in U.S. District Court in Burlington, prosecutors and the defense attorney for Kenneth Miller, of Stuarts Draft, Va., discussed some of the details of his upcoming trial.
Judge William Sessions ruled Miller’s trial should begin Aug. 7, rejecting a request by prosecutors to delay the trial because the wife of a key witness living in Nicaragua is expecting a baby around that time. The trial is expected to last about a week.
The witness has been questioned by prosecutors and defense attorneys, and Miller is eager to go to trial, said defense attorney Joshua Autry, of Harrisburg, Pa.
"There is not going to be a plea in this case," Autry said in court. "He is hoping for an acquittal."
Miller, a Mennonite pastor, is charged with aiding and abetting in international kidnapping. Prosecutors say Miller helped Lisa Miller, who’s not related to him, and her daughter, Isabella, now 10, drive in September 2009 from Virginia to Buffalo, N.Y., where Lisa Miller and her daughter entered Canada. Once in Canada, they were met by another Mennonite who helped them in Toronto to board a plane that took them to Mexico City, from where they traveled to Nicaragua.
Lisa Miller and her former lesbian partner, Janet Jenkins, were joined in a Vermont civil union in 2000. In April 2002, Lisa Miller gave birth to Isabella, conceived through artificial insemination. For a time the two raised Isabella together, but in November 2003 Lisa Miller filed to dissolve the civil union. Custody initially was granted to Lisa Miller with liberal visitation rights for Jenkins.
But over the years Lisa Miller refused to comply with the visitation orders. The Supreme Courts of Vermont and Virginia ruled in favor of Jenkins, essentially treating the case the same as a custody battle between a heterosexual couple.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
In late 2009, a Vermont family court judge gave Jenkins custody, but by the time the transfer date arrived Lisa Miller and Isabella were in Nicaragua. They were last known to be in Nicaragua in early 2010.
Prosecutors said they believe Kenneth Miller’s attorneys may try to claim he didn’t know when he helped Lisa Miller leave the country that Jenkins had visitation rights with Isabella. They will argue he helped Lisa Miller and Isabella flee the country to ensure Jenkins would not have access to the child.
Prosecutors asked the judge to prevent Kenneth Miller from claiming Lisa Miller was the only true parent and from questioning whether Jenkins was a fit parent or whether a person has a duty to obey "God’s law" over U.S. law.
Autry said he and his client would not make those arguments.
Kenneth Miller, who had about a dozen friends and relatives in court with him, declined to comment.