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Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - Page updated at 10:00 p.m.
Pastor convicted in parental kidnapping case
By ERIK ECKHOLM
The New York Times
After four hours of deliberation, a federal jury in Burlington, Vt., found an Amish-Mennonite pastor guilty of abetting international parental kidnapping in a widely publicized case involving same-sex unions and conservative Christian opposition to homosexuality.
The pastor, Kenneth Miller, of Stuarts Draft, Va., could face up to three years in prison. He was convicted of helping Lisa Miller flee to Nicaragua with her daughter, Isabella Miller-Jenkins, in September 2009 to evade court-ordered visits with Lisa Miller's former partner in a civil union in Vermont.
After the verdict, about 100 of Kenneth Miller's supporters from the Beachy Amish-Mennonite sect, the women in traditional long dresses and headscarves, gathered outside the courthouse to sing "Amazing Grace" and other hymns.
Kenneth Miller, 46, joined the group and said, "We are of course disappointed, but with the grace of God and by his help, we will bear the consequences."
After splitting up with the former partner, Janet Jenkins, in 2003, Lisa Miller, who is not related to Kenneth Miller, declared herself a born-again Christian, denounced homosexuality, soon began interfering with child-custody visits and tried to strip Jenkins of her legal rights as a parent.
Lisa Miller moved to Virginia and, in 2009, as a frustrated Family Court judge in Vermont threatened to transfer custody of the girl, disappeared with her daughter.
The Beachy Amish-Mennonites regard homosexual behavior as a sin.
In the trial, Kenneth Miller's lawyer, Joshua Autry, did not dispute that Kenneth Miller had helped arrange for Lisa Miller and her daughter to fly from Canada to Nicaragua and obtain shelter from missionaries in his sect.
But Autry argued that Kenneth Miller did not realize that Lisa Miller was defying any court orders at the time of the flight.
The prosecutors cited abundant evidence that Kenneth Miller tried to hide what Lisa Miller was doing: He specified that their flights should not touch down on American soil and gave the pair traditional Mennonite garb to wear as a disguise, for example.
His case was also undermined by the testimony of a fellow Amish-Mennonite pastor in Canada, who said he had refused to transport Lisa Miller and Isabella across the U.S.-Canada border because he feared they could be breaking the law.
"The evidence shows the defendant helped Lisa Miller because he believed in her cause," Paul Van de Graaf, an assistant U.S. attorney, told the jury.
Kenneth Miller had to give up his passport but will remain free for now. Autry said the defense might appeal, arguing that the trial should have been held in Virginia, where Kenneth Miller's actions took place.
Federal agents believe Lisa Miller and Isabella, now 10, are still hiding in Nicaragua.
Jenkins, meanwhile, filed suit against Lisa Miller and Kenneth Miller for helping in the flight. Jenkins, of Fair Haven, Vt., filed the civil lawsuit as the jury was announcing its guilty verdict against Kenneth Miller.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.
Copyright © The Seattle Times Company
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