BURLINGTON -- A Virginia pastor worked with a number of other people to help a woman flee the United States with her daughter rather than share custody of the girl with the mother's former lesbian partner, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
The trial of Kenneth Miller of Stuarts Draft, Va., 46, opened in U.S. District Court in Burlington. In his opening statement, Miller's lawyer said he will prove his client believed Lisa Miller had full custody of daughter Isabella.
"Kenneth Miller thought that she was the full legal guardian," defense lawyer Joshua Autry said.
Miller, a Mennonite pastor, is charged with aiding and abetting in international kidnapping.
Lisa Miller, no relation to the defendant, and Janet Jenkins of Fair Haven entered a civil union in Vermont in 2000. Lisa Miller gave birth to her daughter, Isabella, in 2002. The couple later broke up, and Lisa Miller returned to her native Virginia.
The two fought a five-year custody battle. After Lisa Miller refused to share custody, a judge transferred custody of the girl to Jenkins.
Prosecutors say on Sept. 22, 2009, Kenneth Miller drove mother and daughter from Virginia to Buffalo, N.Y., where the two crossed the Rainbow Bridge into Canada and flew to Central America and lived among Mennonites. The current whereabouts of the mother and her now-10-year-old daughter are unknown.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugenia Cowles said the government will prove that Kenneth Miller and others helped arrange the flight of Lisa Miller and Isabella.
"In the dark of the night, Lisa Miller took her daughter across that bridge," Cowles said. "Lisa Miller didn't act alone. We are here because others, including the defendant, Kenneth Miller, aided in her cause."
The opening witnesses laid out the background of Lisa Miller's custody dispute with Janet Jenkins and the crossing of Lisa Miller and Isabella into Canada. An Ontario Mennonite pastor picked up the mother and daughter on the Canadian side Niagara Falls after the two had crossed into Canada by taxi, said Pastor Ervin Horst. Horst, who lives in Ontario about an hour from the border, said he was in regular phone contact with Kenneth Miller and declined to cross into the United States to pick up Lisa Miller and Isabella because he didn't want to cross an international border with them. They crossed the border in a taxi, instead, and he picked them up and took them to the airport in Toronto the next day.
When asked in court if he knew the background of the case, he said he didn't know the details.
"Lisa did not feel good about what was happening and wanted to protect her daughter from the situation," he said.