BUFFALO, N.Y. — The father of an ex-lesbian who fled the country seven years ago with her child took the stand on Friday, being called as a prosecutorial witness by the government to testify against his daughter and Philip Zodhiates, a man who is accused of being a part of a complex “international kidnapping” conspiracy.
Terry Miller described a strained relationship with his daughter, Lisa Miller, who lived with her mother after her parents divorced. She later moved in with him when she turned 18.
“It wasn’t a close relationship,” he told the court, stating that it “was a little contentious.”
Terry Miller remarried, and Lisa’s mother died in 1988.
Lisa attended Northern Virginia Community College while living with her father, and when she transferred to James Madison University, their relationship was even more so “further away.” While in college, she met and married Kirk McConchie, but it was a “very short” marriage, Terry testified, as they likewise divorced.
The Washington Post reported in 2007 that Miller struggled with being intimate with her husband due to a physically and emotionally abusive childhood, which adversely affected their marriage.
“I tried [to secretly date men],” Lisa told the outlet at the that time, advising that her mother, who she described as “mentally ill,” forbid her from having relationships with men. “She would always find out. ‘All men are evil.’ That’s what I grew up with. ‘They only want one thing.'”
She said that she turned to alcohol in an attempt to deal with her problems, and soon ended up in AA, where she met Janet Jenkins and entered into a relationship with her, although “I did not feel sexually attracted to women.”
Terry Miller testified on Friday that he learned of Lisa’s civil union to Jenkins through Lisa’s brother Christopher, whose communication with Lisa was also “cold.” He said he never visited his daughter when she lived with Jenkins in Vermont, but went to see her and her daughter Isabella when she moved back to Virginia when the relationship ended.
Miller said that his daughter called him in August 2009 and wanted to visit. The child visitation battle between Lisa and Janet was underway during this time.
“Fine,” he told the court of the visitation request. “She (Lisa) is my daughter.”
Lisa and Isabella stayed with Miller for four to five days, but he did not spend time with them as he was working, Miller told the court. The extent of his contact was dropping them off at a water park and giving Lisa money as she was in dire financial straits.
That was the last time he saw her.
Lisa did, however, call her father, including in September 2009, when he says she phoned him and ask that he call Philip Zodhiates to tell him the location of the Walmart where she was present.
Terry Miller said he didn’t know what his daughter was doing and didn’t ask. He later described his daughter as being “hard-headed,” “introverted” and “very much secretive,” a woman who has her “own way of doing things” and is “determined.”
“I don’t pry,” he stated. “It’s not my business.”
It is believed that Miller met Zodhiates in the Walmart parking lot, where he picked her up and drove her to New York. Miller’s car was later found in the lot, and was towed and soon sold as scrap metal.
But questions were raised in the court on Friday as it was discussed how Lisa’s father received a hand-written Grandparents Day card from Isabella and an apology letter from Lisa presumably after, according to the timeline, they had fled the country—but the cards and letter were postmarked within the United States, in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
“Did you say that they could be hiding right under our noses?” the defense asked, pointing to testimony he had given to the FBI as he had showed the card and letter to the government.
Others also testified as the first week of the two-week trial came to an end, including Janet Stasulli, a 27-year member of the late Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church. Stasulli had met Lisa Miller through ex-lesbian Linda Wall with Concerned Women for America, the nation’s largest faith-based female lobbying group. Isabella had served as a flower girl in Stasulli’s wedding.
When asked how he would describe Miller as a tenant, Anthony Phelps, Miller’s landlord, stated that she was a “good tenant and paid the rent on time.” Therefore, in the winter of 2009, when her rent uncharacteristically began falling behind, Phelps used a key to enter the apartment.
He testified that he found it unoccupied, but left just as it was—with unmade beds and dishes in the sink. He also recalled seeing a map in the kitchen with pins touching different locations. Members of Keystone Baptist Church (Miller’s church) paid for the rent and came and cleaned out the dwelling, donating the contents to Goodwill.
John Collmus, a teacher at Covenant School in Charlottesville, likewise took the stand, advising that Philip Zodhiates had emailed to ask if he would take “two pieces” of luggage with him on his upcoming trip to Nicaragua for a woman named “Sarah,” which is believed to be Lisa Miller’s disguise name.
“I did not pack them. One of the elders at the church did,” Zodhiates wrote in the email, which was presented by the prosecution at the trial.
Zodhiate’s part-time receptionist, Beatrice Conner Daugherty, told the court that Zodhiates never told her of his plans to drive Miller from Virginia to New York. She said she never asked about Zodhiates’ whereabouts as it was common for him to be away, being “continually in and out of the office.”
As previously reported, Zodhiates is accused of driving Miller to Buffalo, New York, where she then crossed the Rainbow Bridge into Canada. (See the indictment here.) The trial is consequently being held in Buffalo as the accused crimes took place within its jurisdiction.
The situation began in 2000, when Miller, then a homosexual, joined in a civil union with lesbian 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, part of which involved the miscarriage of Miller’s second pregnancy, and Miller moved to Virginia. She renounced homosexuality and reportedly turned to Jesus Christ to be born again.
“It wasn’t a struggle,” she recalled of walking away from the homosexual lifestyle. “I felt peace.”
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.
In addition to Zodhiates, American missionary to Nicaragua Timothy “Timo” Miller—no relation to any in the case—is also accused of arranging Lisa Miller’s travel arrangements from Canada and assisting her upon her arrival to Nicaragua. He was recently arrested, and is currently being held in a Nicaraguan prison where he awaits to learn whether officials will deport him back to the United States.
Mennonite pastor Ken Miller is currently serving 27 months behind bars for his alleged part in the escape. As previously reported, he was held in contempt on Wednesday for refusing to testify against Zodhiates “for reasons of faith and conscience.”