What a day! What a hearing!
We gathered in the hallways of the US District courthouse in Burlington, VT. waiting and visiting for a few minutes while Judge William Sessions finished a previous case involving extradition of an illegal alien back to Mexico. Many of us had met on a similar occasion last August-- Ken Miller's trial. With children present, there were well over 100 friends and supporters gathered, plus a few reporters. Very few, if any, seemed to be supporters of the prosecution. We entered the courtroom at about 2:45, filling it tightly over capacity.
The judge came in about 10 minutes later. First he heard arguments from the prosecution and the defense about whether Ken should receive an "enhanced" sentence for his crime. The defense argued that there was nothing extraordinary that separated this crime from a typical similar crime and that Ken's character was such that supervised release was sufficient penalty. The prosecution argued that the crime could not have occurred without Ken so his role was substantial. She also said that by selecting a foreign country without close diplomatic ties to the US and by continuing to conceal Lisa and Isabella's whereabouts, there was substantial interference of justice and significant extra involvement and expense for the federal government.
The judge responded with a 2 fold question direct to Ken and his attorneys. #1 Is your position still the same- that you acted for reasons of faith and conscience in helping Lisa and Isabella and #2 Would you do it again? He said there is significant evidence that a defendant who will not express sorrow for his crime will much more likely re-offend.
Upon consultation they responded that "yes" his position is still the same, but that the second question is a bit hypothetical and they were unable to give a definite answer whether he would or would not do it again. Ken said he does not believe a similar situation would occur again, that he was far more knowledgeable of the legal issues and the implications for his family and others in such a case than he had been, and that if a similar situation came up, he would need time for counsel and prayer to make a decision.
The judge found his answers troublesome and there was continued conversation. The defense emphasized that he had been sought out by Lisa, that he had a clean record as far as other violations of the law, that he had acted on deeply held convictions, and that there was evidence that quite a number of his people would have done a similar thing if the request had come to them instead.
Ken was given the opportunity to address the court. He spoke clearly and quietly for several minutes. He said he has a family of six children which he cares for very deeply. From a very young age he has been taught that the conscience is a priceless gift from God and that it is primary to allow this inner light to function properly in our lives. He said he acknowledges that the government and legal system is also ordained of God and he finds himself in a great dilemma- On the one hand desiring to honor the state, but on the other desiring to live with a clear moral conscience before God. He desires to do both, but he also knows that his highest loyalty is to Christ. He said respectfully with some emotion that it seems to him this court is judging his faith and conscience before God and he does not know what to do. So he chooses to look beyond this court to a higher court to which everyone of us, even this court, will give an account and to follow the example of our Lord Jesus who, in the words of the apostle Peter, "committed himself to Him who judges righteously". This brings peace of mind, rest of soul, and a willingness to yield himself into the hands of this court to accept whatever decision they make, even if it brings hardship.
The judge asked him to clarify how his faith led to this offense. In a quiet, clear, but slightly faltering voice Ken responded, "I and my people would believe and teach that marriage is ordained by God as being the union of a man and a woman and that a child's parentage is of a father and a mother."
It was 3:45 and a fifteen minute recess was called. A few brethren met for prayer outside the courtroom during this time acknowledging the Lord and His power.
After the recess, the prosecution proceeded with their sentencing request. She spoke for 10 to 15 min. She spoke words of appreciation for Ken's beliefs, but said that these beliefs must be held within the bounds of the law and cannot be exercised contrary to the law. She requested a sentence of 30 to 36 months based primarily on 3 points. First, Ken assisted in the removal of a child from the US. She said it is impossible to overstate the immense proportions of this offense and the devastating effects it will have on a child because the US is the privileged place where everybody wants to come. They even sneak across borders to get here. Apparently in the trial just previous to this one she had argued that it was better for an illegal immigrant's child to stay in its home country; because the judge somewhat humorously replied, "I thought in the last trial you objected to a child being brought to this country. I find that amusing." She proceeded with her second point that Ken had robbed Ms. Jenkins of her child-- an unimaginable nightmare to a parent who was present when the child was born. She said Ken professes to have compassion for Ms. Jenkins, but his actions clearly show otherwise. He sees her as a homosexual, an associate of the powers of darkness. Her third point was Ken's lack of acceptance of guilt for his actions. He claims to answer to a court higher than this one. He welcomes the hero status he receives and blames the victim (Janet) for his crime. We have every reason to believe he would do it again. His supporters also answer to a higher court than this one and tonight in the state of Vermont a woman is without her child.
The defense gave no response and the judge gave a ruling on the prosecutor's request for an "enhanced" sentence. He agreed that Ken's role was substantial but he did not agree that it had been clearly shown that there was substantially more expenditure or effort required of the government in this case. He gave a 2 level enhancement. They had sought a 5 level.
The room was quiet as the judge spoke for some time to an attentive audience- first about the seriousness and sadness of the offense, but then also about his respect and admiration for Ken's faith and character. He said he does not feel Ken is being sentenced for his religion, but for actions contrary to the law. As one whose responsibility it is to uphold the laws and to protect the system of law in this country, he also finds himself in a dilemma. Many people commit crimes in the name of religion (even murder), and if we discard the criminal justice system because of everyone's personal beliefs, we will have anarchy- a country without laws. He finds it painful and hard, but this court must enforce the law which exists. (I cannot appreciate the derogatory statements that are made in some comments on public news sites about judges, especially this judge.)
Judge Sessions said he will sentence Ken the maximum length of time according to the sentencing guidelines for this crime. He sentenced him to 27 months imprisonment and 1 year probation. He waived any fine (which should have been from $6000 to $60,000) and stipulated that his imprisonment should be in a minimum security setting near his home in VA if possible. He also said Ken has the right to appeal his sentence.
There were 2 remaining issues to be decided. Because Ken chose not to give the testimony the prosecutors were after in front of the grand jury several weeks ago, it resulted in a civil contempt charge and Ken was placed in prison to reconsider. On that charge he could be held in prison for up to 18 months. The judge said Ken has had sufficient time to consider and he is convinced that more time will not change his mind so he eliminated the civil contempt charge.
The other issue was a response to a motion filed by the defense asking for a stay of the sentence till after the appeal is completed. The appeal alleges that according to federal law, it was improper for Ken to be tried in VT because his crime took place in VA. The judge said the appeal raises substantial questions about the case and could take as long as several years to complete so he grants the stay and Ken is released to go home for now subject to the same conditions he was subject to at home before.
The court was dismissed at about 5:30. It came as a surprise to all of us that Ken was released for now and was not held on at least one of the charges. With grateful hearts, we shared in the graciousness of our Father in heaven giving Ken the joy of being reunited with his wife and children. Such a joy for us all, especially Ken's family! His dear wife, Linda, was beaming. The children were overwhelmed. Ken's testimony was that they thank God for this experience which has drawn them closer to God and to each other. Ken had no other clothes but his navy blue prison garb so one of the brothers from Stuarts Draft gave him a coat to keep him warm and make him more presentable to the news media as we left the building.
David Bercot, one of the consulting attorneys, explained the future prospects this way: "Two to three years from now, we should receive a ruling from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals on our appeal. If they agree with us that venue in Vermont was improper, then the federal government will have to start over. Such a ruling would erase Ken’s sentence as well as his felony conviction. The government may elect to try Ken in Virginia, or they may decide to drop the case. If the Court of Appeals rules that venue in Vermont was proper, then Ken will have to report to the prison to which he will be assigned to begin his sentence." If I understood correctly, one of the defense lawyers in court mentioned also that the decision by the Court of Appeals may be appealed to the US Supreme Court.
The air was cold, snowy, a bit raw and blustery, but the mood was one of quiet jubilant thanksgiving as we gathered on the street, offered some prayers, and sang a few songs. Ken spoke to several reporters. In prayer, Ken acknowledged our Creator God, the love of Jesus, His gift of life eternal, and prayed for the judge, for this nation, and for the friends he had anticipated returning to at the prison in St. Albans, VT. With meaning in our hearts we sang together, "There is a God He is alive..., O victory in Jesus my Savior forever..., The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell..., Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus..., and I was in sin's prison O so dark and cold...". The words of the song "Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus" were especially meaningful to my own heart as we sang there on the street.
’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord!”
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!
O how sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to trust His cleansing blood;
Just in simple faith to plunge me
’Neath the healing, cleansing flood!
Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just from sin and self to cease;
Just from Jesus simply taking
Life and rest, and joy and peace.
I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
And I know that Thou art with me,
Will be with me to the end!
The conflict is not over, and it never will be over on this earth till our Lord returns. But our conflict is not primarily a fleshly conflict between people or groups though sometimes we see some of it's effects there. It is the struggle of finding and abiding in the grace of Jesus in a world of sin, of experiencing His salvation continually in our lives. It is the struggle of learning how to more fully represent Him and be of use to Him, dying to our own life, and allowing Him to impart to us His resurrected life and His eternal wisdom and to use for His own eternal purposes these lives of ours which would be forever ruined without His restoring work. This is God's plan for us, each in the capacity he calls and enables us to fill, for however long He needs us here.
Ken's address is now:
Ken and Linda Miller
3301 Stuarts Draft Highway
Waynesboro, VA 22980