BUFFALO, N.Y. — Several prospective jurors said that they could not separate their personal beliefs on homosexuality from the nation’s laws on the matter as jury selection was underway on Tuesday in the case of a Virginia man accused of aiding an ex-lesbian turned professing Christian who fled the country with her daughter in 2009 to escape a court order.
Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Arcara told those sitting in the jury box that throughout the trial of Philip Zodhiates they would hear terms such as “civil union” and “rights in parenting,” and that they must be “treated no differently” than heterosexual relationships. As in customary in criminal trials, jurors, he said, must look at the case through the lens of the law and not their personal views.
“I can’t listen to your law if it’s against my law,” said prospective juror Christina Anderson during the selection process, advising that she took issue with the nation’s “new laws” on homosexuality.
“You can’t put it aside?” Arcara asked.
“No,” Anderson replied.
“I don’t agree with that either,” said prospective juror Ebony Collins.
“I also strongly disagree with same-sex marriage,” likewise remarked prospective juror Mark Ecats. “It’s a sin.”
Michael Belshire, a former paratrooper who now works for the IRS, said that he could not be impartial if the case involved Muslims.
These and others were dismissed as they could not be objective, neutral jurors. Six men and six women were ultimately chosen for the trial, which is scheduled to begin Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.
As previously reported, Zodhiates is charged with international parental kidnapping and conspiracy for allegedly driving Lisa Miller and her then seven-year-old child from Virginia to New York, where she crossed over into Canada before fleeing to Nicaragua.
“This case is about religious intolerance of same-sex relationships,” prosecutorial filings state, according to the Associated Press. He “helped [Miller] break the law by taking Isabella outside the country in the name of those strong religious views.”
Zodhiates is the son of the late Dr. Spiros Zodhiates, a Greek-born Bible scholar who founded the missions and relief ministry Advancing the Ministries of the Gospel International (AMG). Dr. Zodhiates also published the Hebrew-Greek KeyWord Study Bible and was a radio and television host, teaching on the New Testament from its original Greek meaning.
Zodhiates and his wife Kathie have six children. He appeared in federal court in 2014 in Buffalo, New York following his arraignment and plead not guilty.
As previously reported, the situation began in 2000, when Lisa Miller, then a homosexual, joined in a civil union with lesbian Janet Jenkins in the state of Vermont. Following an artificial insemination procedure from a male sperm donor, Miller gave birth to a daughter, named Isabella, in 2002. But even then, Miller had concern.
“There were numerous incidents of Janet going to [the Internet] and putting up naked women on the screen saver, and I would ask her to please change it,” Lisa later told the court, according to the Washington Post.
“I don’t have clean hands, either. Previously, before … the baby was born, [pornography] was used in our relationship,” she said. “When we moved to Vermont, Isabella was 4 months old, and I said this stuff has to go … There’s a baby in this house now. I don’t want that.”
In 2003, Miller and Jenkins split over continued tension in their relationship, and Miller moved to Virginia. She renounced homosexuality and reportedly turned to Jesus Christ for salvation.“It wasn’t a struggle,” she recalled of walking away from the homosexual lifestyle. “I felt peace.”
Miller, who had previously been married to her college boyfriend, said that she had struggled with being intimate with her husband due to an abusive childhood, which adversely affected their marriage. She turned to alcohol for solace, and later became involved in a relationship with a woman, but only for the companionship.
“I did not feel sexually attracted to women,” Miller said.
She met Jenkins at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting while seeking help and soon moved in with her, where one step led to another.
When the civil union between Miller and Jenkins was officially dissolved, the court gave custody to Miller, while also granting visitation rights to Jenkins.
While Miller did allow Isabella to spend time with Jenkins for a while, she reportedly became concerned at the information that her daughter was providing to her following the visitations.
Later, Miller testified to the court that the visits were causing great trauma to Isabella. She claimed that at six years old, the girl was forced to take baths together with Jenkins, and that the girl was openly touching herself inappropriately. She also stated that Isabella was withdrawn and talked about suicide at times.
“Isabella came home and said, ‘Mommy, will you please tell Janet that I don’t have to take a bath anymore at her house,’” Miller told reporters in 2008. “I asked her what happened. She said, ‘Janet took a bath with me.’ I asked her if she had a bathing suit on. ‘No, Mommy.’ She had no clothes on and it totally scared Isabella. She had never seen this woman except once in 2 ½ years and she takes a bath with her.”
“Last year, Isabella put a comb up to her neck and said she wanted to kill herself after one of the visits,” she outlined. “She took a comb and pressed it into her neck and said, ‘I want to kill myself.’ I don’t know where she got that. It was immediately after a visit. Other people have seen huge changes.”
Miller then filed for exclusive custody of Isabella, and the court agreed. She told the Washington Post, “I don’t see Janet as a parent, first and foremost. Secondly, I don’t want to expose Isabella to Janet’s lifestyle. It goes against all my beliefs. I am raising Isabella to pattern herself after Christ. That’s my job as a Christian mom. Homosexuality is a sin.”
However, Jenkins fought the ruling all the way up to the Virginia Supreme Court, which in 2008, ruled in favor of granting Miller’s former lesbian partner visitation rights. Miller refused.
The following year, family court judge Richard Cohen warned Miller that she must allow Isabella to visit Jenkins and threatened that if she did not do so, he would transfer full custody to Jenkins. In November 2009, Cohen followed through with his threats and ordered Miller to hand the child over to Jenkins.
However, Miller had fled the country with Isabella before he issued the transfer order, and for some time, none knew the whereabouts of the two. It was later discovered that they had fled to Nicaragua via the help of a number of Mennonite Christians and their contacts.
Mennonite pastor Kenneth Miller of Stuarts Draft, Virginia (no relation) is currently serving 27 months behind bars on international kidnapping charges for helping Miller. Now, Zodhiates is facing similar charges, as he is accused of driving Miller from Virginia to Buffalo, New York, where she then crossed the Rainbow Bridge into Canada. (See the indictment here.)
Another contact in Canada allegedly helped Miller and her daughter travel to Nicaragua. American missionary to Nicaragua Timothy “Timo” Miller—no relation to any in the case—is likewise accused of arranging Lisa Miller’s travel arrangements from Canada and assisting her upon her arrival to Nicaragua.
Co-prosecutor Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Van De Graaf confirmed to Christian News Network on Tuesday that Timo Miller is currently behind bars in Nicaragua and might be deported back to the U.S.. However, the decision is up to Nicaraguan officials as there is no extradition process in place.