BURLINGTON, Vt. — A Mennonite missionary in Nicaragua testified Thursday that he helped a woman embroiled in a Vermont custody dispute with her former lesbian partner flee the U.S. with her child, but he did not believe he was doing anything illegal.
Timothy Miller said in videotaped testimony that he knew Lisa Miller was fleeing the U.S. because of the custody battle but he believed at the time that she had full custody of her daughter Isabella. He said he picked the mother and child up when they arrived in Managua and arranged a place for them to live in Nicaragua.
“I did not believe it was a crime I had committed,” Timothy Miller said on the tape played for jurors.
Mennonite pastor Kenneth Miller is on trial on a federal charge of aiding in international kidnapping.
Prosecutors say Kenneth Miller helped Lisa Miller and Isabella, then 7, flee the country to avoid sharing custody with Janet Jenkins of Fair Haven. Timothy Miller was originally charged in the case, but the charges were dropped in exchange for his cooperation. The three Millers are not related.
The defense says the 46-year-old Kenneth Miller from Stuarts Draft, Va., believed Lisa Miller had full custody of her daughter. The trial began Tuesday with jury selection and continues Friday. If convicted, Kenneth Miller could be sentenced to a maximum prison term of three years.
Lisa Miller and Jenkins entered a civil union in Vermont in 2000. Lisa Miller gave birth to her daughter in 2002. The couple later broke up, and Lisa Miller returned to her native Virginia.
A custody battle ensued in both Vermont and Virginia courts, with the supreme courts in both states eventually ruling the disagreement should be handled as a parental rights case under Vermont law.
Two months after Lisa Miller left the United States, a Vermont judge transferred custody to Jenkins. The current whereabouts of Lisa Miller and her now 10-year-old daughter are not known.
Also Thursday, prosecutors presented records for a cellphone of Virginia businessman Philip Zodhiates as evidence of Lisa Miller’s movements from Virginia to Buffalo, N.Y., on Sept. 21, 2009. They said calls were made between Zodhiates’ cellphone and Kenneth Miller’s cellphone during the trip to Buffalo.
According to previous testimony, a Mennonite pastor met Lisa Miller and her daughter in Canada and he drove them to the Toronto airport. The records then track Lisa Miller from Canada to Mexico City to Nicaragua, the prosecutors told jurors Thursday.
In court documents, prosecutors say that Lisa Miller and Isabella stayed for a time at a Nicaraguan beach house owned by Zodhiates and that Zodhiates sent the mother and child, who were not using their real names, a care package.
Zodhiates, owner of Response Unlimited of Waynesboro, Va., has not been charged in the case. He did not immediately return a phone message left for him at his business on Thursday.
Defense attorney Joshua Autry asked government witness James Mattson if he knew who was using the phones. Mattson said no.