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Mennonite pastor pleads guilty in kidnapping case

When Isabella Miller-Jenkins disappeared seven years ago, prosecutors accused an Amish Mennonite missionary of helping the young girl's mother abduct her and flee to Nicaragua.

The pastor, Timothy Miller, pleaded guilty in Buffalo federal court Wednesday.

Miller, 40, who was arrested in Nicaragua earlier this year, is the second defendant to be convicted in a prosecution that captured the nation's interest because of the issues – same sex relationships and parental rights – at the heart of the case.

The other defendant, Philip Zodhiates – a Virginia businessman who like Miller was accused of helping Isabella's mother flee – was found guilty after a trial in September.

"Timo Miller is a good man," said defense attorney Jeffrey A. Conrad of Lancaster, Pa. "He made a mistake and he wants to put this behind him."

At the crux of the case is the allegation that Isabella's kidnapping was Lisa A. Miller’s attempt at keeping her daughter away from Janet Jenkins, her former partner, and what Miller now calls “the homosexual lifestyle.”

Miller, the girl's biological mother, is also a defendant but has yet to appear in a courtroom to face the charges against her. Prosecutors said she and Isabella, now 14, are believed to be living together at a location unknown to authorities.

No relation to Isabella or her mother, Timothy Miller was accused of buying them a one-way ticket from Toronto to Nicaragua and then helping them settle there after they Virginia in September of 2009.

With several Mennonite supporters in the courtroom Wednesday, Timothy Miller pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and, when sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara, will face a recommended sentence of 12 to 18 months in prison.

Timothy Miller was also charged in a previous prosecution in 2011 but the government dropped the charges, reportedly because he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Joined by a civil union in Vermont, Jenkins and Lisa Miller separated in late 2003, and a Vermont court gave custody to Miller and visitation rights to Jenkins.

When Miller moved back to Virginia, she joined a conservative Christian church and tried to stop visits by Jenkins. The courts intervened and, at one point, appeared on the verge of transferring custody to Jenkins.

Around that same time in 2009 is when Isabella disappeared. Prosecutors say she and her mother ended up in Managua, Nicaragua, and were greeted by Timothy Miller, the Mennonite pastor.

Zodhiates, who will face prison time when he is sentenced by Arcara, was also accused of helping Lisa Miller flee the country with her daughter. He helped them make their way to the Buffalo Niagara International Airport and later Toronto, where they caught a plane to Nicaragua.

During the trial, prosecutors called a series of witnesses and presented a trail of emails intended to prove that Zodhiates helped Lisa Miller flee Virginia in an effort to keep Isabella away from Jenkins.

Jenkins, who took the witness stand in Zodhiates' case, told the jury she intends to do “anything and everything” to bring her daughter back to the United States.

Timothy Miller's conviction is the result of a prosecution by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael DiGiacomo and Paul Van de Graff and an investigation by the FBI and U.S. Marshal's Service.

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