Skip to main content

Features

Lisa Miller, mother in kidnapping case, in U.S. custody

The mother who fled to Nicaragua in a high-profile case over same-sex custody turned herself in to U.S. authorities last month

Lisa Miller, mother in kidnapping case, in U.S. custody

In this file photo, Lisa Miller answers media questions about her custody battle following arguments for her case before the Virginia Supreme Court on April 17, 2008. (AP Photo/Lisa Billings)

After more than a decade in hiding, Lisa Miller has turned herself in to U.S. authorities.

Miller, 52, made headlines when she was charged with international kidnapping for fleeing the United States in 2009 with her daughter, Isabella, 7 years old at the time. Miller had previously been locked in a high-profile custody dispute with her former lesbian partner, Janet Jenkins, who also claimed parental rights over Isabella. Miller, the biological mother, feared she would lose custody of her daughter if she remained in the United States.

Miller and Isabella, who is now 18, have spent the nearly 12 years since in hiding. Despite being wanted by the FBI and Interpol, Miller and her daughter evaded U.S. and Nicaraguan authorities’ efforts to locate them.

That changed on Jan. 19 when, according to friends of the family, Miller and Isabella turned themselves in to the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua.

A representative of the federal detention center in Miami confirmed to WORLD on Thursday that Miller was being held there and faces a kidnapping charge.

WORLD wasn’t able independently to confirm whether Isabella had chosen to remain in Nicaragua.

Miller’s supporters and friends have mixed feelings about her decision to turn herself in. But they anticipate a difficult road ahead for the mother.

“I believe Lisa did the right thing to protect her daughter Isabella,” wrote blogger Mark Roth last week in a post announcing Miller’s surrender. “I also believe she did the right thing in surrendering now that Isabella is of age. ... Christians should voluntarily surrender to authorities and face justice.”

Janet Stasulli, a friend of Miller’s from Thomas Road Baptist Church, said she wasn’t sure why she had decided to turn herself in. But she said, “I am sure Lisa definitely prayed about it.”

Lisa Miller entered a civil union with Janet Jenkins in 2000 in Vermont. In 2002, after the couple agreed to use in vitro fertilization to have a child, Miller gave birth to Isabella. The next year, Miller and Jenkins separated, then officially dissolved their civil union in 2004. Miller professed to be a Christian and renounced her lesbian lifestyle. She and Isabella settled down in Lynchburg, Va., where they attended Thomas Road Baptist Church. Miller also began blocking Jenkins’ court-ordered visits with Isabella.

That kicked off a court battle between Miller and Jenkins. Initially, a court in Virginia—where same-sex marriage was not legal at the time—ruled that Miller did not have to allow the visits. But the Virginia Supreme Court later ruled that Vermont had jurisdiction over the case.

A Vermont court pressured Miller to continue the visits, but she refused, arguing her daughter was sad and withdrawn after visits and that Isabella had begun exhibiting inappropriate sexual behaviors.

When a judge threatened to give Jenkins full custody of Isabella, Miller fled the country with her daughter. U.S. authorities charged her with international parental kidnapping, and the judge granted full legal custody of Isabella to Jenkins.

The Mennonite community in Nicaragua claimed in 2012 that investigators had interrogated church members, recorded church services, and searched at least one house in an effort to discover the mother and daughter’s whereabouts.

Meanwhile, people who helped Miller flee from the United States have faced consequences: Amish Mennonite pastor Kenneth Miller served two years in prison after helping her leave the country. Authorities arrested Amish Mennonite missionary Timothy Miller for buying plane tickets to Nicaragua for Lisa Miller and Isabella. In 2017, he was sentenced to time served and parole, after spending eight months in custody. (Neither Kenneth Miller nor Timothy Miller are related to Lisa Miller.)

In 2017, businessman Philip Zodhiates was sentenced to three years in prison for driving Lisa Miller and Isabella to Buffalo, N.Y., from which the mother and daughter crossed the border to Canada before flying to Nicaragua. Zodhiates is expected to be released later this year.

Isabella turned 18 last April, making her no longer subject to the court’s custody decision. Near the end of President Donald Trump’s term, supporters unsuccessfully petitioned him to pardon Zodhiates and Lisa Miller.

Charissa Koh

Charissa Koh

Charissa is a WORLD reporter who often writes about poverty fighting and prison reform, including profiling ministries in the annual Hope Awards for Effective Compassion competition. She is also a part of WORLD's investigative unit, the Caleb Team. Charissa resides with her husband, Josh, in Austin, Texas. Follow her on Twitter @CharissaKoh.

Comments

You must be a WORLD Member and logged in to the website to comment.
  • Ann Marshall
    Posted: Sat, 02/06/2021 06:45 pm

    That Janet Jenkins was given so much consideration by the courts, far more than many biological fathers could ever hope to see, shows off-the-charts bias. Does Janet Jenkins have any genetic connection to the daughter in question? And why, when there was good evidence some form of abuse was happening when the girl was in Jenkins' care, was there not an investigation? 

    Mr. Trump's failure to pardon Lisa Miller and Philip Zodhiates is extremely disappointing. 

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Cyborg3
    Posted: Sun, 02/07/2021 01:50 am

    Mr Trump is no longer President, so why are complaining about him? President Biden could pardon them but he doesn't. I wonder why? 

  • Ann Marshall
    Posted: Sun, 02/07/2021 08:24 pm

    Beg pardon, Cyborg3, why would President Biden pardon Lisa Miller? Given his presuppositions (Day 1 in office: "We can't tell the difference between boys and girls.") I would assume Biden would consider Lisa Miller guilty of criminal conduct and that he would affirm she should be punished. To pardon Miller would outrage the LGBT element of his party as it would suggest Jenkins did not have inherent parental rights. 

    I would've assumed Mr. Trump would be very sympathetic to Miller's plight and I don't think that stating I am disappointed qualifies as a complaint. 

  • Fuzzyface
    Posted: Sun, 02/07/2021 08:34 am

    I admire the great sacrifice she made for her daughter.

  • Ann Marshall
    Posted: Sun, 02/07/2021 12:11 pm

    Yes! I do as well, and her courage in turning herself in, so much faith and trust in the Lord!