In a stunning development, government attorneys have dropped charges against a Mennonite missionary accused of aiding in the kidnapping of a young girl at the center of a high-profile child custody case.
Though the reason for the decision is not yet clear, documents filed in federal court late Friday indicated that Timothy “Timo” Miller, who was arrested in April and later charged with aiding and abetting in the international kidnapping of Isabella Ruth Miller-Jenkins, is cooperating with the ongoing investigation.
Miller-Jenkins, now nine years old, has been missing since 2009. According to an April FBI affidavit, she traveled to Nicaragua with her mother, Lisa Miller, following a protracted, interstate custody battle between Miller and her former partner, Janet Jenkins (Timo Miller is not believed to be related to Lisa Miller). The longstanding case has further highlighted the legal uncertainty faced by gay parents in states that do not recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions.
In the Friday order, U.S. Attorney Tristram J. Coffin dropped the grand jury indictment against Timo Miller in the kidnapping.
“In light of Timothy Miller’s role in the international parental [kidnapping], and his agreement to cooperate with the investigation of the United States government, including an agreement to return to the United States and to provide truthful testimony as requested in any proceedings in this matter, further prosecution is not in the interests of the United States at this time,” the order, signed by Coffin and U.S. district judge Christina M. Reiss, read.
Miller’s passport has since been returned. Miller’s lead attorney, Jeff Conrad, did not return several calls for comment. Paul J. Van de Graaf with the U.S. attorney's office confirmed the order but declined to comment further. Jenkins' attorney, Sarah Star, also declined comment.
Supporters of Timo Miller, however, have hailed the order as due vindication for a young missionary whose life, as well as the lives of his family members, had been turned upside down by the charges.
In April, FBI agents arrested Timo Miller at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va. upon returning from the Nicaraguan capital of Managua with his wife, JoAnna, and their four children.
“An AMAZING answer to prayer!!!” authors of The Timothy Miller Family Support Network, which has provided legal aid and financial assistance to the family, wrote on their website late Friday. “Many people are asking about what caused the prosecutors to drop the charges. The truth is, we don't really know ... it was unexpected. Attorney Jeff Conrad just says he's never seen anything like it before, and that it truly is a miracle.
“Timo is soooo grateful for the love that each of you showed by your earnest prayers and outpouring of financial support,” the post continued. “He wished to express his deepest gratitude on behalf of both him and his family.”
Lisa Miller entered into a Vermont civil union with Jenkins in 2000, one that ended in 2003. Following the break-up, she moved to Virginia with Isabella, joined an evangelical church, and began reading books on ex-gay reparative therapy. Miller was later represented in custody proceedings by the social conservative legal group, Liberty Counsel, but was ordered to transfer full custody of Isabella to Jenkins after she repeatedly refused to grant her former partner court-ordered visitations. Liberty Counsel attorneys Mathew D. Staver and Rena Lindevaldsen have said that they have not had contact with Miller since her disappearance and did not advise her to break the law, The New York Times reported earlier this year.
According to the April FBI affidavit, Victoria Hyden, an administrative assistant at the Liberty University School of Law, had been asked by her father "to disseminate a request to get Lisa Miller supplies" in Nicaragua, where she and her daughter had allegedly been staying at a beach house owned by Hyden’s father. Liberty Counsel has offices on Liberty University’s Lynchburg, Va. campus.
Hyden's father, Philip Zodhiates, runs Response Unlimited, a Waynesboro, Va.–based Christian direct-mail business. In an April telephone interview with The Advocate, Zodhiates denied that Miller and her daughter were staying at his rental house in Nicaragua.
In a 2006 email to Lindevaldsen, published in the attorney’s book on the case, Only One Mommy: A Woman’s Battle for Her Life, Her Daughter, and Her Freedom, Miller asserted that Isabella “is a political hostage and is being used by the gay agenda” for advancing marriage equality.
“[G]ay marriage is not a win-win situation,” Miller later wrote to Lindevaldsen in September 2009, the same month she disappeared with Isabella. “One side, and one side only, gets their rights and the other side loses their rights. As we’ve seen lately, the Christian has faced a series of losses. A loss for Christian values means we lose our liberties, including our inalienable rights to live out our religious beliefs.”
Supporters of Timo Miller who celebrated Friday's court news have taken a similar perspective on the issue. “Since God has not intended for two men or two women to raise children as a family unit, they can’t produce children on their own,” unnamed authors wrote on TimoMiller.org. “This creates a problem in their agenda to create the perception that homosexual behavior is normal. Thus they resort to adopting children or using artificial insemination from a male donor in the case of a lesbian relationship. Can you imagine being a child growing up in the middle of such an environment?”
Richard Huber, a friend of Timo Miller’s family who in April had been named legal custodian of the pastor as set forth in the court’s conditions of release, told The Advocate on Monday afternoon that he had accompanied Miller to Vermont late last week for meetings regarding the case.
Miller and his family expect to return to Nicaragua following the dismissal of the case, according to Huber. “He’s so happy, it’s just great,” Huber said of Miller.
Update: A previous version of this story reported that Victoria Hyden "had aided Lisa Miller with supplies in Nicaragua." The FBI affadavit in the case alleges that Hyden was only asked to do so by her father, Philip Zodhiates. In an e-mail to The Advocate, a Liberty Counsel spokeswoman wrote that Hyden has denied receiving the request.