Sentencing set in Vermont same-sex custody dispute
MONTPELIER -- A Mennonite pastor is scheduled to be sentenced in March for his conviction on a charge he helped a Virginia woman and her daughter flee the country three years ago rather than allow the girl to have regular visits with the woman’s former lesbian partner.
Kenneth Miller of Stuarts Draft, Va., faces up to three years in prison when he is sentenced in federal court in Burlington on March 4.
His attorney, Brooks McArthur of Burlington, wouldn’t say last week what sentence he would seek for Miller. He plans to file a sentencing memo ahead of the hearing.
Kenneth Miller was convicted last summer for helping Lisa Miller and her daughter Isabella flee the country in 2009, several days before the girl was scheduled for a weekend visit with Lisa Miller’s former partner, Janet Jenkins of Fair Haven. It was also two months ahead of an anticipated order from a Vermont judge transferring custody of the girl from Lisa Miller to Jenkins. The Millers are not related.
A civil lawsuit by Jenkins at the conclusion of Kenneth Miller’s criminal trial is also pending. A number of the defendants, including Kenneth Miller, Liberty University and the Thomas Road Baptist Church, both in Lynchburg, Va., filed documents in court late Friday asking a judge to dismiss the civil case filed by Jenkins. They argued, in part, that the case should not have been brought in Vermont.
And Miller’s attorneys continued to fight a subpoena from federal prosecutors that he testify before a grand jury, presumably about other people involved in helping the Lisa Miller and her daughter travel from Virginia to Canada and then on to Nicaragua where they are still believed to be living.
Kenneth Miller had been scheduled to testify last week before the grand jury, but a federal appeals court in New York pushed that back.
"We do not want to put him in the position where if he testifies in front of the grand jury, he may make a statement that may be adverse to him at his sentencing," said McArthur. "We’re looking forward to litigating the issue down in New York before the 2nd circuit."
Prosecutors have guaranteed Miller immunity for his grand jury testimony, court documents showed. The U.S. attorney’s office refuses to discuss the grand jury proceedings.
Jenkins and Lisa Miller were joined in a Vermont civil union in 2000 and Isabella was born to Lisa in 2002. The couple split in 2003. A Vermont family court awarded custody of Isabella to Lisa Miller but gave Jenkins regular visitation.
Lisa Miller returned to Virginia, became a conservative Christian, renounced homosexuality and sought full custody of the girl. The two fought a yearslong legal battle that reached the supreme courts of Vermont and Virginia. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
Ultimately, the courts agreed the case should be treated the same as any custody dispute between heterosexual parents.
During Kenneth Miller’s August trial, prosecutors used cellphone records and sometimes-reluctant witnesses to lay out a broad network he oversaw that helped Lisa Miller and Isabella travel first to Canada and then Nicaragua.
At Jenkins’ lawsuit, she maintains Miller and the others conspired to kidnap Isabella, thwarting the family court orders that Isabella spend time with Jenkins and, after the change of custody was ordered, that Jenkins was to become the legal parent.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.