US pastor convicted for aiding parental abduction

August 16, 2012

Source: Sydney Morning Herald

BURLINGTON, Vermont: An Amish-Mennonite pastor has been found guilty in the US of abetting international parental kidnapping, in a case involving same-sex unions and conservative Christian opposition to homosexuality.

The pastor, Kenneth Miller, faces up to three years in prison. A federal jury in Burlington, Vermont, took four hours to convict him of helping Lisa Miller (no relation) flee to Nicaragua with her daughter, Isabella Miller-Jenkins, in September 2009 to evade court-ordered visits with Ms 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 head scarves, gathered outside the courthouse to sing Amazing Grace and other hymns.

After splitting up with the former partner, Janet Jenkins, in 2003, Ms Miller declared herself a born-again Christian, denounced homosexuality, began interfering with visits and tried to strip Ms Jenkins of her legal rights as a parent. Ms 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 behaviour as a sin.

In the trial, Miller’s lawyer, Joshua Autry, did not dispute the evidence that Miller had helped arrange for Ms Miller and her daughter to fly from Canada to Nicaragua and obtain shelter from missionaries in his sect. But Mr Autry argued that Miller did not realise Ms Miller was defying court orders at the time of the flight.

The prosecutors cited abundant evidence that Miller tried to hide what Ms 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.

His case was also undermined by the reluctant testimony of a fellow Amish-Mennonite pastor in Canada, who said he had refused to transport Ms Miller and Isabella across the US-Canada border because he feared they might be breaking the law.

Miller had to give up his passport, but will remain free for now.

The judge gave the defence 30 days to file post-trial motions.

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