BURLINGTON, Vt. — A pastor from Virginia was convicted Tuesday of helping a woman flee the country three years ago when she was on the brink of having to turn custody of her young daughter over to the woman who was once her partner in a Vermont civil union.
The jury issued its verdict against the Rev. Kenneth Miller after several hours of deliberations in the case, which has drawn broad attention because of the legal and religious questions it raised about same-sex unions and child custody, and because the mother and daughter remain at large.
Mr. Miller, 46, of Stuarts Draft, Va., was charged with aiding in international kidnapping for helping Lisa Miller and her daughter, Isabella, leave the country in September 2009, a month after a judge indicated he would turn custody of the girl over to Janet Jenkins, of Fair Haven, Vt., if she continued to defy a series of visitation orders.
Kenneth Miller and Lisa Miller are not related. Lisa and Isabella, now 10 years old, were last known to be in Nicaragua.
Prosecutors said Mr. Miller, a Mennonite, arranged for another person to drive Ms. Miller and Isabella from Virginia to Buffalo, N.Y., where they crossed into Canada and were picked up by an Ontario Mennonite who took them to the airport for a journey to Nicaragua.
After they arrived in the Central American country, the two were apparently cared for by American Mennonites who sought to protect Isabella from exposure to the lesbian lifestyle.
Nicaragua is not a signer of the 1980 Hague convention on international child abductions, which is designed to return children illegally taken from member countries.
Mr. Miller showed no emotion as the verdict was read and will remain free pending sentencing. About 100 supporters, nearly all dressed in traditional Mennonite clothing, gathered outside the courthouse and sang hymns after the verdict was announced.
As the verdict was being announced, Ms. Jenkins filed a civil lawsuit against Mr. Miller and her former partner. The suit also names a Virginia businessman who prosecutors say worked with Mr. Miller to get Ms. Miller and Isabella out of the country. The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages.
Ms. Miller and Ms. Jenkins entered into a civil union in Vermont in 2000, shortly after the state became the first to legally recognize same-sex relationships.
Ms. Miller conceived the child through artificial insemination at Ms. Jenkins' expense and the three lived as a family. Ms. Jenkins has no biological relationship to Isabella and did not formally adopt her.
Ms. Miller later became an evangelical Christian and renounced homosexuality. A child-custody case went to Vermont family court in 2004, after the couple dissolved the civil union.
Ms. Miller, who moved to Lynchburg, Va., was given primary custody of Isabella, with Ms. Jenkins given visitation rights.
Ms. Miller appealed the case for years, but ultimately the courts in Virginia and Vermont determined the case would be bound by the Vermont family court order.
After defying visitation orders, Ms. Miller became a fugitive in 2009 when she disappeared with Isabella, and their current whereabouts are unknown.