Virginia pastor sentenced in custody dispute - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Virginia pastor sentenced in custody dispute

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

The case has become a cause -- pitting gay rights -- against conservative Christian beliefs.

The latest chapter in the long running custody battle over Isabella Miller Jenkins. The man who helped one of her mothers kidnap the girl and flee the country sentenced to more than two years in federal prison.

Joyful and giving thanks Monday outside federal court in Burlington.

"I'm very grateful for the mercy of God. God bless you all," exclaimed Pastor Kenneth Miller.

Pastor Kenneth Miller and dozens of others from his Virginia Menonite congregation celebrated -- despite being sentenced to 27 months. He had been held in prison -- but unexpectedly -- Judge William Sessions released him pending his appeal.

"I'm also very grateful to all my friends and my cellmates back at St. Albans and back at Essex County. They took me in and made me one of their own," Miller said.

Miller is facing that 27 month sentence because he helped Lisa Miller -- who is not related to him -- kidnap her daughter Isabella during a custody dispute and flee to Nicaragua 4 years ago.

Lisa Miller -- and Janet Jenkins joined in a civil union in Vermont more than a decade ago. Isabella was born in 2002. But the couple split up.  Miller moved to Virginia with the girl -- became a born again Christian -- and denounced her lesbian past. The custody battle over Isabella dragged on -- until 2009.  That's when Miller and the girl got the pastor's help fleeing the country -- after a Vermont judge ordered Isabella turned over to Jenkins in Vermont.

The pastor was unapologetic. In court -- Miller could not promise the judge he would not do the same thing again.  Prosecutors say he revels in the fame the case has brought to his church. It has grabbed national headlines -- pitting religious freedom for conservative Christians -- against parental rights for lesbians and gays.

"Basically a child was stolen from one of her parents. Any parent out there has got to wonder what it would be like to have their kid in that same place. And it's intolerable for someone to use any justification for taking a child away from their parent. You know, whether it be religious or whatever other justification one might have," explained Tris Coffin, U.S. Attorney for Vermont.

Kenneth Miller told the court he helped Lisa Miller leave the country -- because society is seeking to re-engineer and redefine marriage. Isabella is now 10 years old. Authorities believe she is still in Nicaragua with Lisa Miller.

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