A Mennonite pastor who helped a still-missing woman and her daughter flee the country — and a custody fight with the woman's former lesbian partner — joined his supporters in song Monday after being told his 27-month prison sentence could be put on hold while he appeals his conviction.
Pastor Kenneth Miller was convicted last summer on a charge of aiding in international parental kidnapping, also called custodial kidnapping. He received his sentence Monday.
"I am grateful for the mercy of God," Miller said, before joining his supporters in singing a hymn, "Our God, He is alive."
During a two-hour sentencing hearing, Miller told U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions III he couldn't promise he would not commit a similar crime again. Last summer, a jury found him guilty of helping Lisa Miller and her now-10-year-old daughter, Isabella, travel from Virginia to the Canadian border and then on to Nicaragua via the Toronto airport.
Lisa Miller and Isabella are still believed to be hiding in Central America. They are not related to the pastor.
Kenneth Miller, 47, of Stuarts Draft, Va., said he acted out of conscience — and a religious belief that finds the idea of same-sex marriage offensive — after a desperate Lisa Miller came to him in September 2009. Miller said the woman pleaded for help escaping a custody agreement that mandated Isabella spend time with Lisa's former partner, Janet Jenkins of Fair Haven, Vt.
"I give myself unto you to do with me as you see fit," an obviously emotional Miller told the judge in a courtroom packed with the same supporters who later sang with him outside.
Judge Sessions said he admired Miller for the depth of his convictions, but he could not allow him to choose God's law over his country's, saying the pastor had helped deprive Isabella of Ms. Jenkins' love. "The horror of this cannot be overstated," Sessions said.
Assistant United States Attorney Christina Nolan said Kenneth Miller's actions were not those of someone full of love and compassion for other people — particularly Jenkins — as he and others have claimed.
"He didn't see her as a human being. He saw her primarily as a homosexual associated with the powers of darkness," said Ms. Nolan.
Lisa Miller and Jenkins were joined in a Vermont civil union in 2000, and Isabella was born to Lisa in 2002. The couple split in 2003, and a Vermont family court gave custody of Isabella to Lisa Miller with regular visitation for Jenkins.
Lisa Miller then returned to Virginia, became a conservative Christian, renounced homosexuality, and sought full custody. Two months after Lisa Miller and Isabella fled the country, a Vermont family court judge transferred custody of the girl to Jenkins, who was not in court Monday.
Kenneth Miller had been jailed since Jan. 24 for contempt of court after refusing repeated orders to testify before a federal grand jury seeking information about others involved in the flight of Lisa Miller and Isabella. At the end of Monday's hearing, Sessions released him from the contempt citation, saying additional incarceration was unlikely to compel him to testify.
Kenneth Miller's attorneys are planning to appeal. They argued the law that allowed Kenneth Miller to be tried in Vermont for a crime that neither occurred nor was planned in the state was likely to be overturned on appeal.
The judge said the appeals process could take years.