Trial Begins for Man Who Helped Ex-Lesbian Christian Mother Escape Country With Her Daughter

A former lesbian woman had a daughter while in a civil union with another woman, then she met Jesus. Now she's hiding her daughter from a lifestyle of sin.

By Nancy Flory Published on September 28, 2016

Trial began last week for Philip Zodhiates, the second man being tried for conspiracy and international parental kidnapping in the case of a former lesbian turned Christian who fled the country to shield her daughter from what she felt was a dangerous homosexual lifestyle at the hands of her former lesbian partner. Zodhiates and others allegedly helped the woman and her daughter leave the country.

The Case

The case of The United States vs. Lisa Miller, et al. began years ago, even before the child, the subject of the lawsuit, was born. In December 2000, Lisa Miller and her lesbian partner Janet Jenkins were joined in a civil union in Vermont, as their home state of Virginia did not recognize same-sex marriages at the time. In 2001, they decided to have Lisa undergo fertility treatments to conceive a child.

Isabella Miller-Jenkins was born on April 16, 2002, and within a few months Lisa, Janet and Isabella moved to Vermont to be in a same-sex union-friendly state. The next year however, the couple decided to part ways. Lisa filed documents to dissolve the union, and she and Isabella moved back to Virginia.

It was at this time that Lisa became a Christian and renounced homosexuality as a sin. “It wasn’t a struggle,” Lisa told The Washington Post in 2007, “I felt peace.” She began attending a local Baptist church with Isabella and eventually enrolled Isabella in a Christian school where she taught.

Vermont Court

Initially, the court awarded custody to Lisa and visitation rights to Janet; however, in subsequent court proceedings, Lisa testified that Janet had been physically and emotionally abusive as a partner and sexually abusive with Isabella.

According to Lisa, Isabella began wetting the bed, having nightmares, touching herself inappropriately and threatening suicide following her visitations with Janet. Lisa also claimed that Janet had behaved improperly with Isabella by taking baths with the child during the visitations.

The court still ordered Lisa to produce the child for visitation and when she refused, the judge slapped her with a steep fine of $25 per day, retroactively, until she allowed Isabella to see Janet. The custody case went all the way to the Vermont Supreme Court, which ruled that Janet was Isabella’s legal parent and entitled to her visitation.

Virginia Court

Lisa then appealed to Virginia for help, filing for exclusive custody of her daughter. “I don’t see Janet as a parent, first and foremost,” Lisa said. “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.”

The lower court sided with her, awarding her sole custody. The Virginia Court of Appeals, however, ruled that Vermont had jurisdiction. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, leaving the court of appeals’ ruling standing.

On November 20, 2009, Lisa was found to be in contempt of court and custody was awarded to Janet, who was scheduled to take custody on January 1, 2010.

The Escape

By the end of September, Lisa and Isabella were gone.

Lisa, with the help of several Mennonite Christians, fled the country with her daughter to Nicaragua, crossing the Rainbow Bridge from Niagara Falls, New York, to Canada, according to court documents, around September 22, 2009.

The Defendants

Timothy David “Timo” Miller (no relation to Lisa) was arrested in April 2011 for aiding and abetting the “kidnapping” of Isabella. Timothy Miller was a Mennonite missionary to Nicaragua who, authorities believed, helped Lisa travel to a “safe house” in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua.

In December of that year, the prosecution dropped the charges against him in exchange for his testimony and cooperation in their investigation against Mennonite pastor Kenneth Miller. The latest reports, however, claim that Timothy was once again arrested in Nicaragua.

Kenneth Miller (also no relation to Lisa or Timothy) was convicted for “aiding international parental kidnapping” in December 2011 and sentenced 27 months in prison, reported The Charley Project.  The pastor of an Amish-Mennonite community, he helped Lisa and Isabelle by getting fellow Amish-Mennonites to purchase plane tickets for a flight from Canada to Nicaragua through Mexico and El Salvador. He also purchased the typical Mennonite dresses, which Lisa and Isabelle wore to conceal their identities.

Before he reported to prison in March of this year, Kenneth wrote on his blog about why he did what he did. “I’m going to prison today because a woman’s faith and modern society collided,” he said. “About 12 years ago Lisa Miller discovered that Jesus of Nazareth was powerful enough to take away her sins. He transformed her life and her lifestyle. In the long, winding journey since then, Lisa has sought to remain true to her Savior and her conscience.”

“I am greatly privileged to stand with Lisa in her quest for truth and freedom,” he added. “Some things can never be locked up inside prison walls. Truth. Conscience. Moral righteousness. And the saving Gospel of Jesus.”

Philip Zodhiates, the man on trial for his part in helping Lisa and Isabelle flee to Nicaragua, was indicted in October 2014. Authorities believe he drove Lisa and Isabelle to Buffalo, New York and crossed the Rainbow Bridge into Canada. For that act, he faces five years behind bars if convicted.

RICO Lawsuit

On August 14, 2012, Janet filed a RICO suit (Violation of the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act) against not only the individuals who helped Lisa and Isabelle escape, but also multiple churches, ministries and even Lisa’s lawyers’ place of employment, Liberty University School of Law.

In the suit, Janet alleges that these organizations and individuals had a “pattern of racketeering” and “are liable for conspiring with Lisa Miller and with each other to kidnap Isabella Miller-Jenkins … [d]efendants are also liable for conspiring to violate Janet Jenkins’ and Isabella Miller-Jenkins’ rights to a parent-child relationship.”

Life on the Run

In Nicaragua, Lisa homeschooled Isabelle on an Amish-Mennonite farm in the “coffee-growing hills” of Jinotega, where they lived for two months until Lisa found an apartment in Managua, reported the New York Times. Isabelle learned Spanish and people called her “Lydia.” Lisa and Isabelle spent time with Timothy Miller and his family, reading the American Girl books and Little House on the Prairie.

Although Isabelle thrived in Managua, Lisa suffered from depression and isolation. She eventually moved Isabelle back to Jinotega. Life was full of friends, birthday parties and sleepovers for a little girl with bouncing blond hair who drew the attention of the locals.

It was around this time that Timothy was arrested at Dulles Airport as he returned for a vacation in the U.S. with his family, and was charged with aiding an international parental kidnapping in Lisa Miller’s case. Lisa and Isabella left the town of Jinotega and haven’t been seen since. According to the Times, federal agents believe the two are still in Nicaragua. Isabella is now 14 years old.

Liberty Counsel’s Rena M. Lindevaldsen, co-counsel with Mathew Staver on Lisa’s case, said that she knew Lisa could go to prison if caught and that would hurt Isabella, but she doesn’t blame Lisa. “It’s sad that in America a woman was faced with this choice,” she said. “The court overstepped its bounds, calling someone a parent who is not a parent and turning a child over to a person who lives contrary to biblical truths.”

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