BURLINGTON, Vt. — A Christian missionary charged with helping a woman take her 9-year-old daughter to Central America during a custody dispute with her former lesbian partner was allowed Monday to remain free on $25,000 bond.
A judge released 34-year-old Amish-Mennonite pastor Timothy David Miller to the custody of a friend and said Miller — who’s accused of helping arrange passage for the woman and child — could have contact with his wife but that they’re not to discuss the case, since she may be a witness.
Miller is charged with aiding in the removal of a child from the U.S. and retaining a child with intent to obstruct parental rights.
The FBI said the pastor helped arrange travel for Lisa Miller and daughter Isabella Miller Jenkins, two of the principals in a long-running child custody dispute.
Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins, of Fair Haven, Vt., were joined in a Vermont civil union in 2000 but broke up three years later after having the child.
Miller then renounced homosexuality, became an evangelical Christian and moved to Virginia, defying court-ordered visitation restrictions before disappearing in September 2009. A Vermont judge later awarded custody of the child to Jenkins, the nonbiological parent.
Since then, a federal arrest warrant has been issued for Lisa Miller, and the girl is listed as missing by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
An FBI affidavit says Timothy Miller — who is not believed to be related to Lisa Miller — helped arrange for the two to fly from Canada to Mexico and then on to Nicaragua, where he was associated with Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries. They allegedly were housed for some time at a beach house owned by a businessman with links to Liberty University, of Lynchburg, Va., the FBI said.
Timothy Miller hasn’t commented on the charges. Public defender Steven Barth declined to comment and said Miller would have none.
Miller was arrested in Alexandria, Va., last week. He entered no plea Monday and was not required to under federal court rules. A probable cause hearing was set for May 10.
U.S. Magistrate Judge John Conroy released Miller to the “third party custody” of Richard Huber of Myerstown, Pa. He also barred him from traveling anywhere but Pennsylvania and Vermont and told him to have no contact with people named in the criminal complaint who may be called as witnesses.
The defendant is allowed to have contact with his wife but they’re not to discuss the case, Conroy said.
Miller got a show of support at the hearing from about 20 Mennonite followers who packed the courtroom benches, the women wearing traditional head coverings.
Among them were his wife, Joanna, and four children. She wouldn’t comment on the charges against her husband, nor would several other people in the group.
“We believe the Lord wants us to fear him and honor him in everything we do,” said Loyal Martin, 40, of Philadelphia, N.Y., who was part of the group. “We believe Timothy was doing that. But we leave the results to the Lord.”
According to Martin, Miller was apprehended as he was flying from Nicaragua to Pennsylvania to attend a wedding.
“I’m hopeful this is a step toward finding my daughter safe,” said Jenkins, who sat through the hearing with her attorney.