Trial Nears in Vt. Civil-Union Child Custody Case
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - A trial beginning this week in federal court in Vermont could lift some of the mystery from an international child-custody case that has highlighted the religious tensions surrounding legal recognition of same-sex relationships.
Jury selection is to begin Tuesday in Burlington in the case against the Rev. Kenneth Miller, of Stuarts Draft, Va. He would be the first person to go to trial as part of what prosecutors describe as a network of Mennonites and friends who helped shepherd Lisa Miller and daughter Isabella, now 10 years old, out of the country in 2009. Opening statements are expected Wednesday.
Authorities say Kenneth Miller, 46, drove Lisa and Isabella from Virginia to Buffalo, N.Y., in an effort to help the woman evade an order expected from a Vermont family court that Lisa transfer custody of Isabella to Janet Jenkins, of Fair Haven, Vt. Lisa and Isabella are believed to have traveled on to Canada and eventually Nicaragua.
Lisa Miller - who is not related to Kenneth Miller - and Jenkins entered into a civil union in Vermont shortly after the state became the first to legally recognize same-sex relationships in 2000. Miller conceived the child through artificial insemination, and both acted as parents.
Miller later became an evangelical Christian and renounced her homosexuality. A child-custody case went to Vermont family court in 2004, after the couple dissolved the civil union. Lisa Miller, who moved to Virginia, had primary custody of Isabella, with Jenkins given visitation rights.
After defying visitation orders, Miller became a fugitive in 2009 when she disappeared with Isabella, and their current whereabouts are unknown.
Prosecutors wouldn’t comment on the details of their case beyond what’s in documents filed with the court. Kenneth Miller’s attorney said during a pretrial hearing he is going to seek acquittal.
Jenkins’ lawyer said Friday that she’d monitor the trial on behalf of her client.
"Janet is really only interested in action that might help bring Isabella home and ensure that Isabella is safe," said attorney Sarah Star, of Middlebury. "People need to be held accountable if they break the law, but Janet’s overriding concern is Isabella’s welfare."
It’s unclear whether the trial, expected to last six days, will clear up exactly how Lisa and Isabella went from attending the Thomas Roads Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., to being connected with Mennonite supporters who prosecutors say moved them north to Canada and then to a community in rural Nicaragua.