Pastor Convicted in Lisa Miller Child Kidnapping Case

Yesterday a federal jury in Burlington, Vermont, convicted Pastor Kenneth Miller of helping Lisa Miller (no relation) flee with her daughter to Nicaragua to avoid complying with court orders granting custody of her daughter to her former partner Janet Jenkins.

Meanwhile, Jenkins has filed a civil RICO suit against Kenneth Miller, Liberty University Law School, Thomas Road Baptist Church, and others who the suit alleges helped Lisa Miller kidnap her daughter. Liberty Counsel, the legal organization headed by law school dean Mathew Staver, which represented Lisa Miller in her custody battle and has tried to turn her into a religious-right folk hero, has repeatedly denied any role in or knowledge of her flight from the country. Erik Eckholm’s New York Times coverage of the trial included this information:

The prosecutors presented evidence that others had worked with Mr. Miller to help Ms. Miller flee. Chief among those alleged to have taken part was a businessman in Virginia, Philip Zodhiates. Telephone records suggest that Mr. Zodhiates was in touch with Ms. Miller for months and drove her and her daughter to the Canadian border for their escape.

Mr. Zodhiates has not been indicted, and declined to comment.

Telephone records also indicated that as he drove home from the border, Mr. Zodhiates tried to call a cellphone number registered to Liberty Counsel, an evangelical legal group.

That cellphone number has sometimes been used by Mathew D. Staver, the founder of Liberty Counsel, dean of the Liberty University Law School in Lynchburg, Va., and a leader of Ms. Miller’s defense team.

The RICO filed by Jenkins includes information that RD readers learned last year from Sarah Posner’s expose of how the case was being taught at Liberty Law School. According to the lawsuit, “Lisa Miller’s attorneys Mathew Staver and Rena Lindevaldsen also routinely instructed their Law School students that the correct course of action for a person in Lisa Miller’s situation would be to engage in ‘civil disobedience’ and defy court orders.”

Peter Montgomery, an associate editor for Religion Dispatches, is a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way Foundation where he was on staff for 15 years. Before that he was associate director of grassroots lobbying for Common Cause and wrote for Common Cause Magazine, an award-winning journal featuring investigative reporting about the federal government.