Burlington, Vermont – A Mennonite pastor that was convicted of providing assistance to an ex-lesbian who fled the country with her daughter has been sentenced to a stayed term of 27 months in prison pending appeal and released.
Ken Miller of Stuarts Draft, Virginia appeared before Judge William Sessions in Vermont federal court this afternoon to hear of his fate. Over one hundred people packed the courthouse to show their support for Miller.
“I commit myself to the ultimate Judge who gives me freedom which no man can take away,” Miller said before the court. “I have sought to stay true to my faith and my conscience.”
“I give myself unto you to do with me as you see fit,” he told Sessions.
As prosecutor Christina Nolan began to speak, she took issue with Miller and his beliefs, and accused him of “acting upon his religion.”
“He sees Ms. Jenkins (the ex-lesbian’s former partner) as a homosexual associated with the powers of darkness,” she asserted with scorn. “He answers to a court higher than this one … [and] blames the victim for his crime.”
Nolan referred to Jenkins, who had lived with the girl and her birth mother until they divorced, as a “mother who has lost her child.”
“There is no sentence you can give that can begin to take her pain away,” she said.
Judge Sessions, who then issued the sentence, began by stating that he thought highly of Miller.
“I for one admire and respect people of faith,” he said. “In many ways I admire Reverend Miller. It is not an indictment on a particular religion.”
While he also noted that the case was a “complex situation,” Sessions agreed with Nolan, and advised that he was bound to the law and had no choice but to sentence Miller to prison.
“My responsibility as United States District Judge is to enforce the laws and respect the system of justice,” he said. “We would be a country without laws and that would be anarchy [if we disposed of the rules].”
Attorney Brooks McArthur asked Sessions to sentence Miller to supervised house arrest, asserting that he is not a “serial violator of the law,” but Sessions rebuffed the notion. He said that he needed to send a “strong message” about Miller’s crimes, remarking, “The horror of this cannot be overstated.” Sessions then gave Miller the maximum sentence of 27 months behind bars as requested by the prosecutor, plus one year of supervised federal probation.
However, because a “substantial question exists” over whether the case should have been heard in Miller’s home state of Virginia rather than in Vermont, Judge Sessions stayed the sentence until an appeal is heard over the issue. He then set Miller free.
David J. Williams, one of the attorneys who represented Miller, told Christian News Network that it could potentially take years for the case to be heard by the Second Circuit.
Following the sentencing, those gathered, which included many Mennonite supporters, joined Miller outside of the courthouse — who was still wearing his prison jumpsuit — to sing hymns and praises to God.
“I just thank God for his mercy. This was wholly unexpected today,” Miller told Christian News Network. “I fully expected to go back to my cell mates … at the Northwest State Correctional Center.”
He said that he plans to spend some quality time with his family now that he is free.
“Overall, this whole experience has brought us closer together as a family even though we’re separated. And it has definitely all brought us closer to God,” Miller explained. “My time in the cell was like a spiritual retreat in a lot of ways, and just an amazing work that was done in my heart and the hearts of my family through all this.”
As previously reported, Miller was convicted last August for helping Lisa Miller (no relation) and her young daughter Isabella travel to Buffalo, New York, where they crossed the border into Canada and then escaped to Nicaragua. Miller, who turned to Christ in 2003, had been threatened by family court judge Richard Cohen that if Miller did not allow her daughter to have visitations with her former lesbian partner, Janet Jenkins, he would transfer full custody to Jenkins. In addition to not wanting her child to be raised in the homosexual lifestyle, Miller believed that her daughter was being traumatized from alleged inappropriate activities taking place between her partner and her daughter.
In November 2009, Cohen followed through with his threats.
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. Information later turned up that Miller and Isabella had taken refuge in Nicaragua. It was also found that Pastor Kenneth Miller had a part helping Miller flee the country.
“I’ve already surrendered my freedom to Christ, and if this is the path he chooses for me, I will walk it,” Miller told reporters following his conviction. “I am willing to accept the consequences.”
“I am at peace with God,” he added. “I am at peace with my conscience. I give it over to God.”
Miller has already been incarcerated over the past month for refusing to testify in the case of another man that is also facing charges for his participation in the matter. Miller told Judge Sessions that his religious beliefs prohibited him from taking the stand in the case, and while Sessions understood, he ordered that Miller be put behind bars until he is ready to talk.
Reports state that Miller sent a letter to Judge Sessions prior to today’s sentencing to state that the judgment he would receive was not really against Miller — it is against God.
“If it is true that my actions flow out of my faith in Jesus, and from my deeply held moral beliefs — and I sincerely think they do — then it must follow that whatever judgment is being brought against me by the United States of America is [a] judgment on my faith and conscience and deeply held moral beliefs,” the letter stated. “I was faced with a woman in distress who needed help to protect her daughter from what seemed to be an inhumane court decree.”
He is now free, and attorneys will be seeking an appeal on his behalf.