A Mennonite pastor, who along with others helped a lesbian-turned-Christian woman flee the country with her daughter after her ex-girlfriend was awarded custody of the girl three years ago, thought the mother had full custody of the child, his lawyer said in a Vermont courtroom on Wednesday.
Prosecutors produced a series of witnesses and cellphone records to prove that Kenneth Miller, of Stuarts Draft, Va., and several other people were involved in helping Lisa Miller and her 7-year-old daughter Isabella out of the country in September 2009 before a judge could transfer custody of the child to Lisa Miller's former partner, Janet Jenkins.
Kenneth Miller is charged with aiding international parental kidnapping, which can carry a maximum imprisonment of three years.
Prosecutors said Lisa Miller (not related to Pastor Miller) fled the country with her daughter three days before a court-ordered visitation with Janet Jenkins, who lives in Fair Haven, Vt., The Associated Press reported.
They said a Vermont judge declared in August 2009 that he would transfer custody of Isabella to Jenkins if Lisa Miller didn't obey the court's visitation orders.
However, Kenneth Miller's lawyer, Joshua Autry, responded by saying he would prove that the pastor believed Lisa Miller had full custody of Isabella when she fled to Nicaragua via Canada. Addressing the jury, Autry added that their decision was not going to be a referendum for or against civil unions in the state. "It's going to be about whether, at the time of the removal, Janet Jenkins had parental rights."
The two women lived in Virginia but went to Vermont to obtain a civil union in 2000. The couple split in Vermont, and Lisa Miller moved back to Virginia with her daughter after renouncing her homosexuality.
Then ensued a battle over the custody of Isabella, who was conceived when the two women were living together in Virginia. Lisa Miller is her biological mother, and did not want her to be exposed to the homosexual lifestyle.
In 2008, a Vermont court ordered Lisa Miller to turn over Isabella for unsupervised visitations with Jenkins. Lisa Miller later asked a Frederick County, Va., judge to nullify the visitation order after Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage took effect. The judge agreed but that ruling was reversed by the Virginia Court of Appeals which said the Vermont court's order must be recognized.
After repeatedly failing to turn over Isabella to Jenkins for visitations, Judge William Cohen of Vermont in November 2009 awarded Jenkins custody of the girl.
However, according to prosecutors, Kenneth Miller took Lisa Miller and her daughter in a car from Virginia to Buffalo, N.Y., on Sept. 22, 2009, and the two crossed the Rainbow Bridge into Canada. They then flew to Central America to live with Mennonites in Nicaragua.
Ontario Mennonite pastor Ervin Horst testified before the court saying Kenneth Miller asked him to pick up Lisa Miller and her child in the U.S. He said he felt uncomfortable crossing the border with them as he was aware of the custody dispute. He picked them up on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls after they crossed the border in a taxi.
Horst then took them to the airport in Toronto. He also said he didn't know the details of the case. "Lisa did not feel good about what was happening and wanted to protect her daughter from the situation," he said.
It is not known where Lisa Miller and her daughter are now.
The trial is likely to continue into next week.