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Pastor gets prison for role in Vt. civil union custody case

BURLINGTON, Vt. — A federal court judge Monday sentenced a Mennonite pastor from Virginia to 27 months in prison for helping a woman to flee the country rather than share custody of her daughter with her former lesbian partner.

Pastor Kenneth Miller, of Stuarts Draft, Va., was convicted last summer on a charge of aiding in international parental kidnapping. He will remain free while he appeals.

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Miller told the court in a letter that Western society is seeking to reengineer and redefine marriage. He says he helped Lisa Miller and her daughter, Isabella, leave the country in 2009 after the woman begged him for help.

Lisa Miller and her daughter are believed to be hiding in Nicaragua. The Millers are not related.

“If it is true that my actions flow out of my faith in Jesus, and from my deeply held moral believes — and I sincerely think they do — then it must follow that whatever judgment is being brought against me by the United States of America, is judgment on my faith and conscience and deeply help moral beliefs,’’ the pastor wrote in his letter.

‘‘I was faced with a woman in distress who needed help to protect her daughter from what seemed to be an inhumane court decree,’’ Miller said, writing from the jail where he was held for refusing to tell a grand jury about other people involved in the case.

Kenneth Miller, 47, was convicted last summer on the parental kidnapping charge.

Lisa Miller left the United States with her daughter, Isabella, in 2009; they are believed to be hiding in Nicaragua.

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During the four-day trial, prosecutors laid out how he arranged for Lisa Miller and Isabella to be taken by car from Virginia to Buffalo, where they crossed into Canada and were met by an Ontario Mennonite who took them to the airport in Toronto. From there, they flew to Mexico and on to Nicaragua.

Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins were joined in a Vermont civil union in 2000 and Isabella was born to Lisa in 2002. The couple split in 2003.

The Vermont family court gave custody of Isabella to Lisa Miller and gave Jenkins regular visitation.

Lisa Miller then returned to Virginia, became a conservative Christian, renounced homosexuality, and sought full custody of the girl.

Two months after Lisa Miller and Isabella fled to Nicaragua, a Vermont family court judge transferred custody of the child to Jenkins.

Prosecutors asked Judge William Sessions III to sentence Kenneth Miller to 2½ to three years in prison, the maximum.

His attorneys countered he should not be jailed because he had no previous criminal record and has been an upstanding member of his community.

In his letter to Sessions, Kenneth Miller explained why he helped Lisa Miller and why he refused to testify before the grand jury.

‘‘After more than three weeks of incarceration . . . I find my faith and conscience and moral convictions considerably strengthened,’’ he said.

‘‘My position remains the same,’’ Miller said. “I am unable for reasons of faith and conscience . . . to answer certain questions before the federal grand jury.’’

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