A Virginia pastor who said that his actions "flow out of my faith in Jesus," was sentenced Monday to 27 months in prison for abetting the international parental kidnapping of a girl in a high-profile case involving a same-sex union and the condemnation of homosexuality by conservative Christians.
But in a victory for the pastor, Kenneth L. Miller, Judge William K. Sessions III of Federal District Court in Vermont said he did not have to start serving his sentence until higher courts decided on a planned appeal, which could take at least two years, according to Brooks G. McArthur, one of Mr. Miller's lawyers.
Mr. Miller's lawyers have argued that Vermont, where an original custody battle over the girl was fought, was an improper venue for an alleged crime that took place in Virginia and elsewhere. While Judge Sessions had previously ruled that the case could be tried in Vermont, his ruling on Monday appeared to acknowledge that federal court rulings had been contradictory and that Mr. Miller's appeal had a chance of success.
As a result, despite Monday's stiff sentence, Mr. Miller, head of a Beachy Amish-Mennonite church in Stuart's Draft, Va., is free to return home with minimal supervision until the appeal is resolved.
Mr. Miller was convicted last fall for helping to arrange the covert flight to Nicaragua of Lisa A. Miller with her daughter, Isabella Miller-Jenkins, in 2009.
Ms. Miller, who is not related to the pastor, had won support in conservative Christian circles for refusing to permit court-mandated visits with Isabella by her other legal mother, Janet Jenkins, Ms. Miller's former partner in a civil union in Vermont. After the couple split up, Ms. Miller moved to Virginia, said she was a born-again Christian and denounced her former lesbianism as a sin.
In 2009, as an exasperated family court judge threatened to transfer primary custody to Ms. Jenkins, Ms. Miller and her daughter, then 7, disappeared and a warrant was issued for Ms. Miller's arrest.
Federal law enforcement officers later discovered that Mr. Miller had helped arrange for Ms. Miller and her daughter to fly to Nicaragua and live there with missionaries from Mr. Miller's Amish-Mennonite sect. But officials have been unable to find the mother and daughter, who, in the view of one federal agent, have been "bouncing around the barrios of Nicaragua" for nearly four years now.
At the trial in August, prosecutors showed that Mr. Miller had arranged for the purchase of air tickets for Ms. Miller and her daughter, gave them traditional Mennonite dresses to wear while fleeing the United States and arranged for church colleagues in Nicaragua to greet and house the pair.
They also presented evidence implicating others whom they have called co-conspirators, including Philip Zodhiates, a wealthy conservative businessman who lives near Mr. Miller in Virginia, and his daughter, Victoria Hyden, an administrative assistant at the Liberty University Law School in Lynchburg, Va. Ms. Miller was living in Lynchburg before her flight and was represented in custody proceedings by the dean and associate dean of that law school.
After his conviction, Mr. Miller refused to testify before a grand jury about others who aided Ms. Miller, telling his supporters: "If I were to bring testimony against a fellow member of Christ's kingdom, for honoring Christ's kingdom's laws, I would be disloyal to his kingdom and to Christ." As a result he has been jailed for the last month for contempt of court, but Judge Sessions suspended the contempt charge on Monday, leaving Mr. Miller free to go.
Ms. Jenkins, meanwhile, has brought a civil suit against Mr. Miller, Ms. Miller, Mr. Zodhiates, the Liberty University School of Law, the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg and other organizations and individuals, alleging a conspiracy encouraged and assisted Ms. Miller's crime.