Seven years after the disappearance of Isabella Miller-Jenkins, the Amish Mennonite missionary accused of helping the young girl's mother abduct her and flee to Nicaragua appeared in a Buffalo courtroom for the first time Friday.
Timothy Miller, arrested in Nicaragua, is the second defendant to find himself before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara in connection with a case that captured the nation's interest because of the issues – same sex relationships and parental rights – at the crux of the prosecution.
The other defendant, Philip Zodhiates, a Virginia businessman who like Miller was accused of helping Isabella's mother flee, was found guilty last month.
The local prosecution is based on 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.”
"Based on the last information we had, we still believe she's in Nicaragua," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael DiGiacomo said of Lisa Miller Friday.
Miller, the girl's biological mother, is also a defendant but has yet to appear in a courtroom to face the charges against her. DiGiacomo 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 is accused of helping them settle in Nicaragua after they fled Virginia in September of 2009. Arcara ordered him detained Friday.
"He's just glad to be back in the United States," said defense lawyer Jeffrey A. Conrad of Lancaster, Pa. "He's spent the past several weeks in some pretty rough Nicaraguan jails."
This is not Timothy Miller's first prosecution in connection with the alleged kidnapping. He was also charged in 2011 but the government dropped the charges, reportedly because he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
On Friday, DiGiacomo and Conrad indicated the two sides are discussing a possible plea agreement.
"We've had some early preliminary discussions about a possible resolution," DiGiacomo told Arcara.
Joined by a civil union in Vermont, Jenkins and Miller separated in late 2003 and eventually ended their relationship. A Vermont court gave custody to Miller and visitation rights to Jenkins.
When Lisa 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.
Prosecutors say that’s when Lisa Miller fled. Sometime in late September 2009, she and Isabella arrived 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.