Man pleads not guilty in complex Vt. custody case

May 25, 2011 - 5:00 PM

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A Mennonite missionary pleaded not guilty Wednesday to helping a woman involved in a long-running custody dispute flee the United States with the child she had with her same-sex former partner.

Timothy David Miller, 34, who is free on $25,000 bond, didn't appear for his arraignment on the charge, which could put him in prison for three years, and wasn't required to. The plea was entered on his behalf by public defender Steven Barth.

Miller was indicted May 12 for allegedly helping Lisa Miller abscond to Nicaragua with her 9-year-old daughter, Isabella. The suspect is not related believed to be related to Lisa Miller.

The girl has been the subject of a custody fight between Lisa Miller and the woman's former partner, Janet Jenkins, for most of her life. He is charged with aiding in the removal of a child from the U.S. with intent to obstruct lawful exercise of parental rights.

According to the FBI, the pastor from Crossville, Tenn., helped arrange passage and a place to live outside the U.S. for Lisa Miller, of Virginia, and the girl, who've been on the run since 2009 and were most recently known to be living in Nicaragua.

Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins, who lives in Fair Haven, Vt., were joined in a Vermont civil union in 2000, and Miller gave birth to the girl two years later. They broke up a year after that, and Miller renounced homosexuality, became an evangelical Christian and moved to Virginia.

She defied court-ordered visitation restrictions before disappearing in September 2009. A Vermont judge later awarded custody of the child to Jenkins, who is the non-biological parent.

Now, Lisa Miller is the subject of a federal arrest warrant. The girl is listed as missing by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Timothy Miller has been described in an FBI affidavit as pastor of an Amish-Mennonite church in Managua, Nicaragua, who also associated with Berlin, Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries.

According to the FBI, airline records show that Miller called from Nicaragua and said Lisa Miller and the girl had to leave Canada the following day and couldn't be routed through the United States. On Sept. 22, 2009, Lisa Miller and the girl flew from Toronto to Mexico City and then on to El Salvador. A day later, they flew to Managua.

Timothy David Miller was arrested in Alexandria, Va., after he and his family flew from Nicaragua to the U.S. for a wedding in Pennsylvania. He was released to the custody of a friend in Myerstown, Pa., after his initial court appearance in Vermont last month.

Wednesday's arraignment consisted of a four-minute hearing in which U.S. Magistrate Judge John Conroy accepted the plea and gave Miller's lawyer three months to file pre-trial motions, setting an Aug. 25 deadline.

Barth told the judge that time was needed because of the complexity of the case, given that the custody dispute had been litigated in both Virginia and Vermont and that the criminal charge was brought under federal law.

In addition, prosecutors obtained voluminous email messages sent by Timothy Miller and others in preparing to charge him.

"There is an incredible amount of paperwork and digital evidence," said prosecutor Annika Frostick.

No trial date has been set.