Daily Dispatches
Kenneth Miller, right, walks with his wife to federal court
Associated Press/Photo by Toby Talbot
Kenneth Miller, right, walks with his wife to federal court

Mennonite pastor refuses to be a 'rat'

Law

The Amish Mennonite pastor who helped a woman and her daughter flee from Virginia to Nicaragua during a 2009 custody battle has refused to testify against others who assisted in the flight. A District Court judge in Burlington, Vt., ordered Kenneth Miller taken into federal custody Thursday after the pastor declined to answer questions from a grand jury about those involved in the international "kidnapping" case.

Kenneth Miller, of Stuarts Draft, Va., was convicted by a federal jury last August of aiding an international parental kidnapping. Four years ago, the 47-year-old pastor helped Lisa Miller and her daughter Isabella flee to Canada, introducing them to others who helped the mother and daughter catch a flight to Nicaragua, where an Amish Mennonite community agreed to harbor them. Lisa Miller wanted to escape the United States because she feared a family court judge would give custody of Isabella, 7 years old at the time, to Miller's former lesbian partner, Janet Jenkins. (The two Millers are unrelated.)

Before court officers took Kenneth Miller's wallet and belt and handcuffed his wrists on Thursday, he apologized to U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions for burdening the court. But he said his religious beliefs prevented him from testifying against the network of people who helped Lisa Miller and Isabella leave the United States.

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In an unusual philosophical exchange, Sessions tried to convince the pastor to divulge what he knew. 

"We can't function as a criminal justice system without the grand jury," Sessions said. "I appreciate your faithfulness to your religion and your moral beliefs and perhaps there is an inherent conflict here." 

Sessions said his job as a judge was to uphold the sanctity of the legal system, while the pastor's duty as a citizen was to comply with an order to testify about a crime.

Kenneth Miller maintained he couldn't implicate others who felt they were simply obeying God's law, which they believe trumps civil law. 

"These people they wanted him to testify against are fellow citizens of God's kingdom," said David Bercot, one of the pastor's attorneys, after the hearing. "And it's like, you wanted me to be a rat, you know, to turn on my fellow citizens. That's basically what it came down to."

Bercot said Kenneth Miller did answer some questions from the grand jury, but none that would have implicated anyone else. Afterward, Sessions ordered Miller to be taken to jail and allowed time to consider changing his mind. The judge has scheduled another hearing for next week. 

Lisa Miller and Jenkins entered into a civil union in Vermont in 2000, shortly after the state became the first to allow such a legal arrangement between homosexuals. Lisa Miller became pregnant with Isabella by artificial insemination. Soon afterward, she left Jenkins, professed belief in Christ and renounced homosexuality. She then tried to block Jenkins' court-ordered visitations with Isabella.

After an annoyed family court judge in Vermont threatened to transfer full custody of Isabella to Jenkins, Lisa Miller took up Kenneth Miller's offer to help her and her daughter hide out with an Amish Mennonite community in Central America. 

The community said it lost track of the mother and daughter in 2011, but authorities believe the two are still in Nicaragua. Lisa Miller is wanted by the FBI and Interpol on kidnapping charges. In Vermont, a judge has given Jenkins legal custody of the missing child.

Kenneth Miller is scheduled to be sentenced for his role in the flight on March 4. He could receive up to three years in prison.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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