Fugitive mother in Vt. custody case being held after over a decade on run

  • Lisa Miller speaks about her custody battle at a news conference on April 17, 2008, following arguments during her court case in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Lisa Billings)

  • Janet Jenkins, left, leaves federal court in Burlington, Vt., on Friday, Aug. 10, 2012. Prosecutors in the trial of Kenneth Miller called Jenkins to the stand on Friday. The 46-year-old Miller is charged with helping Lisa Miller and her daughter Isabella flee the country in September 2009 after a years-long custody dispute. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring) Wilson Ring—AP

Published: 2/8/2021 8:41:09 PM
Modified: 2/8/2021 8:41:08 PM

A former Vermont woman who fled the country more than a decade ago with her daughter — in a custody battle with her former civil union partner that became an international kidnapping case — is now in custody. Lisa Miller was listed Monday afternoon as an inmate at a federal detention center in Miami.

A federal judge in Florida has ordered her detained until her case can be transferred to a federal court in the western district of New York, where the kidnapping charges were brought.

Authorities allege she crossed into Canada through New York state when she fled the country in 2009.

A federal warrant on charges of conspiracy and kidnapping had been issued for Miller’s arrest, along with others who had helped her flee and hide for years in Nicaragua. 

The case, known as Miller-Jenkins v. Miller-Jenkins, attracted national headlines as one of the first legal cases highlighting the fate of children in relationships sanctioned in one state, but not in others.

Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins had moved from Virginia to Vermont to enter into a civil union in 2000, and they returned to Virginia, where they decided Miller would conceive a child through artificial insemination. 

The child, Isabella, was born in Virginia in April 2002 and the two women returned to Vermont. They later broke up and filed to dissolve their civil union. Miller moved back to Virginia and Jenkins has resided in Fair Haven, Vermont.

In 2004, Judge William Cohen, who has since been appointed to the Vermont Supreme Court, made a landmark decision in the civil union child custody dispute.

In that case, Cohen issued a ruling that, for the first time in Vermont, granted a person in a civil union legal rights as a parent, even though that person was not the biological or adoptive parent of a child.

Eventually, Cohen issued full custody to Jenkins when Miller repeatedly refused to abide by family court orders, including visitation. However, Jenkins got that custody as Miller fled.

In addition to the criminal charges, Miller faces a civil lawsuit that Jenkins brought against her and against those who allegedly helped her flee the country.

The arrest came to light when Jenkins’ attorney filed Monday for a summons against Miller in connection with the civil suit, noting that she was in custody in Florida. She had turned herself in at the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua.

According to Jenkins’ filing, Miller “was returned to the United States and arrested in Miami” on Jan. 27, and made an initial appearance the next day in a federal court there.

She was ordered held until she’s transferred to New York state on the criminal charges. 

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