Another Account of the Last Day in Court

Tuesday, August 14. 2012

Our whole family along with several other brothers from NY arrived at Burlington Court about 8:50 am to find a line stretching out the front door and down the sidewalk. It took some time to go through the security line and court was already in session till we got through. The courtroom on the fifth floor was packed and the marshals and technicians were scurrying to set up audio in an overflow room on the second floor. We were placed in the overflow room. Quite a few were present from VA, plus many from PA, NY, VT, OH, MA, ME, KS, TX and I’m sure other places. I later counted over 110 in the courtroom and at least another 30 in the overflow room. Besides a few journalists almost all were Anabaptist people. Janet's lawyer was present.

I understand from others that a brother from Stuarts Draft, Ivan Swarey, gave brief character testimony for the defense first thing this morning, but the audio was not yet connected in our room so I could not hear it. Brother Ken did not take the witness stand.

Our audio was turned on in time for us to hear the prosecutor begin his closing statements. He strung together all the evidence that had been presented against Ken emphasizing Ken’s initiatory role in each situation. He said Lisa needed help to do what she wanted to do and Ken provided that help. He spoke for almost an hour. He said venue was appropriate in VT because that is where Ken was arrested and that evidence shows Ken thought it was right to help Lisa in spite of the law and that his intent was to impede “evil” court orders. He was very specific in emphasizing that they intentionally helped Lisa violate existing visitation rights. He asked the jurors to return a guilty verdict.

The closing arguments of the defense lasted about a half hour. He emphasized that several witnesses’ testimonies, including the key witness (Timo), agreed that at the time of Lisa’s travel they did not believe they were violating any laws. He said you can’t “intend” to violate a law that doesn’t exist yet. He replayed some clear statements from Timo’s deposition for the jury to hear. He did not contest the evidence but said that Ken’s motive was to help a mother who would possibly lose her own biological daughter to a woman who had no connection to her. He said Lisa had every right to travel when she did and that she travelled legally. He emphasized that to return a guilty verdict there must not be a reasonable doubt. “We don’t put people in jail for ‘maybes’ or ‘possiblys’.” He very kindly instructed the jurors to make sure they’re fair, and that it’s OK not to compromise just to have a unanimous vote. He ended by thanking the officials of the state of VT for their kindness during the trial.

The prosecution gave a final rebuttal reiterating that in their opinion a guilty verdict depended on actual violation more than intent to violate. She emphasized that they purchased one way tickets and that there was no change in Ken’s behavior after the custody transfer. She said, “Mr. Miller decided his judgment, not the VT court judgment, should stand. He did it because he felt Janet should not have access to Isabella.” She asked the jury to find him guilty as charged.

After a short break, the judge gave a lengthy charge to the jury detailing their responsibilities and giving some specific, helpful guidelines for making a judgment. He said that if the evidence supports two conclusions you must conclude the defendant is innocent. He stated the charge: Aiding and abetting the removal of a child from the US with the intent to obstruct the lawful excercise of parental rights. He asked the jury to give a verdict on two points: 1. Is the defendant guilty or innocent as charged? 2. If guilty, is venue appropriate in VT? He said their decision must be unanimous. He appointed a juror named Rosanne to be the floor person of the jury and dismissed them.

Judge William Sessions then addressed those of us who had attended the court case. He expressed that it had been a pleasure for him to watch the way this trial was conducted. He said even though it was a long trial, attendees were very attentive, well-mannered, and respectful; Especially the children were extraordinarily well-mannered and he wanted to express his personal appreciation for the conduct of all of us. One of the marshals later said that all of them had respect and sympathy for us.

Lunch was provided for some in the basement of the nearby church and we gathered in the sanctuary to share together in song and prayer. The prevailing atmosphere was very yielded, beseeching, and united.

Soon after 2:00 we began to make our way back into the courthouse so we would be through security before the courtroom doors opened. At about 2:45 court was briefly called into session because the jurors wanted to ask the judge if they could view part of Timo’s deposition again. The judge responded that any testimony could only be given once but that if it was really necessary he could perhaps arrange for a portion of the court transcript to be read if both the defense and prosecution approved the portion. The jurors asked to be dismissed again.

At about 3:15 court was reconvened with the marshals saying the jury had reached a verdict. In a quiet, subdued courtroom the verdict was read: Guilty. Venue is appropriate in VT. The judge asked the defense if they wanted the jury to be polled. After an affirmative response, each juror was asked by name if they agreed to the verdict. They all responded yes. One juror was near tears. The judge gave 30 days for the defense to present post-trial motions at which point sentencing will take place. Ken Miller is released on bail until then, but was asked to surrender his passport. After a sentence is given the case could be appealed.

We all left the courthouse and gathered across the street raising our voices in song together while the news media, court personel, and passerby took in our response. Owen Yoder of VA did an excellent job of directing about 130 of us as we selected songs and sang together by memory. Man of Sorrows What A Name, Victory in Jesus, When Peace Like a River, Faith of Our Fathers, There Is a God He Is Alive, My Jesus I Love Thee, When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, How Beautiful Heaven Must Be, Victory In Jesus (again), I Was In Sin’s Prison, We’ve Got the Power in the Name of Jesus, There’s Power in the Blood, Wonderful Story of Love, Sing the Wondrous Love of Jesus, Kneel at the Cross, Amazing Grace, Rock of Ages, Sing the Wondrous Love of Jesus (again), The Old Rugged Cross, A Wonderful Savior is Jesus My Lord, I Believe in God, Blest Be the Tie That Binds, My Faith Has Found a Resting Place, Nothing but the Blood, There’s Power in the Blood (again), and some others. My heart was very encouraged to be connected with consecrated believers from the many groups who were being drawn to the Lord together by this mutual trial.

Some reporters gathered around Ken asking for his response. He said we had hoped for a ruling in our favor but we respect the judge and jury and feel like we were treated fairly. He said our people will not respond with lobbying and protesting but by God’s grace will seek to obey the Word of God with quiet suffering. He spoke about the changes that are taking place in our society and how it is almost inevitable that these kind of conflicts will increase. Ken very clearly and simply presented the gospel message that God sent His Son Jesus Christ into this world; that He came and dwelt among us, carrying the sin of each one of us as He died on the cross. Whoever believes this and surrenders their life to Him in repentance can have their sin taken away and be reconciled to God.

One day last week while sitting in court, I opened my Bible at random and read these words: "But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God..." 1 Pet.3:14-18 While we do not profess to have fully "arrived" in our pursuit of understanding and applying God's will in our lives, I believe these verses (and others) call us to be willing to face these kinds of suffering experiences so that God's glory (His character on display) is made known by our lives and seeking souls are brought to Him.

I would like to note that while the church at Stuarts Draft has not said much about finances, there is a continued need for finances for legal fees, esp. if the case is appealed.