Tag Archives: kidnapping

Safety concerns raised over ride-sharing services

One of the early lessons children learn is to never get into a stranger’s car. They carry that lesson into adulthood, with an exception for hailing a taxi.

But what about lining up a ride via Uber, Lyft or another ride-sharing service? Safety advocates say they have serious concerns about the security of passengers in Uber vehicles, especially female passengers.

Uber operates in more than 250 cities in more than 50 countries. In May, the company announced an expansion of services in Wisconsin and now has contracted drivers operating in Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, Racine, Lake Geneva, Waukesha and the Wisconsin Dells. 

Uber, in its Wisconsin announcement, said the expansion “followed passage of statewide regulations that have created a framework that embraces ride-sharing across Wisconsin.”

“In Wisconsin, our ride-sharing service UberX offers Uber convenience with prices cheaper than a taxi,” the company stated. “UberX driver partners have vehicles in a variety of colors and styles, with seating for up to four passengers.”

Passengers pay a base fee, plus costs per minute and per mile, with minimum fares set in some communities.

Ride-sharing is a service that’s particularly popular with young, urban adults.

“I don’t have a car and I don’t want one,” said Emily Brune, 21, of Madison. “But I can’t walk or bike everywhere and Uber has been the perfect answer for me and some of my friends.”

Michael Clauson, 28, of Milwaukee, is another customer and he’s considering becoming a driver.

“I like the idea that you can just work when you want,” Clauson said. “For someone who wants to make some extra money, that’s cool.”

Uber conducts background checks on driver applicants.

“To maintain the Uber standard you expect, all driver partners must undergo Uber’s rigorous screening process and every ride is covered by our $1 million commercial liability insurance policy,” the company said in introducing its Wisconsin operation. “After every trip, riders and drivers rate one another on a scale of one to five stars to maintain a safe and respectful environment for all users.”

However, Uber’s drivers are contractors, not employees, and the terms of service for passengers say the company “does not guarantee the quality, suitability, safety or ability of third-party providers.”

Over the past two years, there have been multiple reports of violence by Uber drivers against passengers. The Who’s Driving You? campaign — which was launched in 2014 by a trade association of taxicab, limousine and paratransit companies — collects and tracks complaints against Uber and Lyft drivers and reports of crimes.

The campaign’s website contains reports of drivers brandishing knives, negligent crashes, fights, thefts, kidnappings and rapes.

One report tracked by Who’s Driving You? involved a driver in D.C. who delivered an anti-gay tirade and assaulted a passenger who burped. Another involved a D.C. passenger suing Uber for $2 million after a driver repeatedly stabbed him.

In Los Angeles earlier this year, an Uber driver was arrested for attempted second-degree burglary. He allegedly dropped a female passenger off at the airport and then went to her home to break in. The woman’s roommate thwarted the attempt.

In Massachusetts, an Uber driver accused of raping a female passenger in December has now been linked by DNA evidence and witness accounts to five other sexual assaults between 2006 and 2010.

There have been at least three other assault-related incidents reported in the Boston area, as well as violent crimes reported in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Uber drivers also have been arrested in England and India for sexually assaulting passengers. A lawsuit filed early this year after the rape of a female passenger in India described Uber’s service as the “modern-day equivalent of electronic hitchhiking.”

In March, Uber responded to the concerns with a new code of conduct for drivers and passengers, a quality assurance program, worldwide incident response teams, stronger partnerships with law enforcement and improved background checks.

Uber also pledged new technology updates for safety. In India, the Uber platform features an SOS button so riders can contact local law enforcement directly from the app in emergencies. Another feature enables riders to keep multiple people informed of their exact location at all times while riding with Uber.

“With more than a million rides per day in 295 cities and 55 countries, continually improving rider and driver safety is the most critical component of what we do,” stated Phillip Cardenas, head of global safety at Uber.

But concerns continue. Referring to “multiple accounts of sexual and violent assaults that have been reported to date,” a petition circulating on Change.org asks Uber to provide an option for female passengers to choose female drivers.

Another issue of concern is the impact of Uber and other ride-sharing services on the economy. Uber drivers — who set their own hours — collect a fee from passengers and Uber takes a commission from the fees. Uber drivers don’t earn the wages of taxi drivers and other transportation workers and could negatively impact wages in the field.

Earlier this summer, progressive New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to limit the number of Uber drivers on the streets, putting him at odds with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, says she wants to crack down on companies that classify workers as contractors rather than employees. These companies avoid the costs associated with hiring personnel, put the burden of some expense on their contractors and earn profits off those contractors.

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush recently responded to Clinton by taking an Uber ride in San Francisco.

Bush’s driver, however, didn’t recognize the candidate and told reporters he probably would vote for Clinton.

Officials: Immigrants assaulted by border patrol agent were surrendering

An immigrant woman, her daughter and another girl who said they were kidnapped and assaulted by a border patrol agent were in the process of surrendering to the agent when their ordeal began, according to officials.

Agent Esteban Manzanares, who officials say committed suicide last week, is accused of driving the three away from the river after they surrendered and assaulting them. The other agent said Manzanares cut the wrists of the adult woman, assaulted one teenager in the group, and then fled the area with a second teenage girl.

The Honduran embassy in Washington, D.C., said the three are a mother, her underage daughter and another girl not related to them. The FBI has said the three were in the U.S. illegally.

The woman who had escaped the attack and walked upriver tripped a camera at the border fence shortly after 5 p.m. last Wednesday, according to federal officials.

They said in the camera image a woman can be seen walking toward a gap in the fence. The border agent said there was blood covering her wrists. Within 10 minutes of the camera image being taken, agents responded to the woman and began a search for the others.

One federal law enforcement official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to talk about the case because the FBI was leading the investigation. Another border agent spoke on condition of anonymity because the agent was not allowed to speak to the media because of the ongoing investigation.

Customs and Border Protection, the federal agency of which the Border Patrol is part, has said that when it found the woman she told them she had been attacked by a man. The federal official said the woman described the man as wearing green fatigues. Border Patrol agents wear green uniforms. She also described a vehicle that the federal official said authorities believed to be a Border Patrol vehicle.

The official and the agent said a search was quickly launched in the area for the other two victims. One of the teenagers was found near the border in the brush, and hours later the second girl was located in Manzanares’ home in Mission, the federal official and the agent said. Mission is a suburb of McAllen, close to the Texas-Mexico border about 350 miles from Houston.

When authorities approached the agent’s apartment, they heard gunfire. A short time later, when investigators went into the apartment, they found him dead and rescued the other girl.

A CBP official told The Associated Press that the agent was on duty when he encountered the females and that his shift had ended by the time authorities showed up at his house and he shot himself. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because it is an ongoing investigation by the FBI.

Karol Escalante, a spokeswoman for the Honduran embassy in Washington, D.C., said the three Hondurans are recovering at a hospital in McAllen. She would not elaborate on their injuries.

R. Gil Kerlikowske, Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said in a statement that such acts are not representative of Border Patrol agents. He added that the agency is working to make sure the victims receive proper care.

“I am deeply sorry that this incident occurred and am committed to doing everything in my power to prevent incidents like this from occurring again,” he said.

The Border Patrol agent who participated in the search said Manzanares was assigned to Anzalduas Park. The FBI said it is awaiting an autopsy report on Manzanares, who the Border Patrol said had been with the agency since 2008.

In a statement in Spanish, the Honduran foreign ministry condemned the assaults and kidnapping and asked the U.S. government for a thorough investigation, for psychological and medical assistance for the victims, for financial compensation and for legal immigration status for the victims.

“Lastly, the government of Honduras calls on the U.S. government to protect the human rights of immigrants, whatever their migratory status might be because all countries – their authorities in particular – are obligated to respect the dignity of human beings,” the statement concludes.

The number of apprehensions by the Border Patrol – a figure commonly used to gauge the ebb and flow of illegal border crossers – rose by 16 percent last year to 420,789 people detained. More than half of those arrests were made in Texas.

Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher said last October that much of the increase was due to a rise in the number of people from Central America trying to enter the U.S. in South Texas.

While apprehensions of Mexican nationals remained fairly steady, arrests of immigrants from other countries, including Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, rose 55 percent. Limited economic opportunities and widespread gang and drug cartel violence in Central America have driven tens of thousands north along a dangerous route through Mexico.

California woman says she was kidnapped for exorcism

A California woman says her husband and son kidnapped her to perform an exorcism, made her drink oil and told her she had devils inside her.

Forty-one-year-old Blanca Farias told News10 in Sacramento that she was held down in the backseat of a pickup truck on Nov. 9 after being picked up in Stockton.

“They were saying I had three devils inside of me,” Blanca Farias said.

She said her husband, Jose Magana-Farias, 42, and son, Victor Farias, 20, convinced her to meet them at a Walmart in north Stockton. She has been separated from Magana-Farias since January.

She told News10 that they told her they wanted to talk about the failing marriage at a nearby coffee shop, but coaxed her into the back of a pickup truck and held her down in the back seat while a pastor — whom she knew — drove.

An hour and half later, she said, they arrived at a church in Bay Point, where she was forced inside and bathed in oil.

“They made me swallow some of that oil,” Blanca Farias said. “I started throwing up and this pastor was just saying, `You’ve got the devil. Get off of her, get off of her, get off of her,’ until I fainted.”

She said she believes that the incident was motivated in part by her choice to see another man since the separation.

“They thought I was crazy,” she said, referring to her son and husband. “That, really, because I’m not with you, I have the devil?”

She said she was able to text her current boyfriend, and authorities were waiting when she returned home. Magana-Farias and his son were immediately arrested.

“That’s what hurts me the most,” Blanca Farias told News10. “Because it was my husband, who I haven’t been with since January, and then my son, following the steps of the dad.”

The father and son initially were accused of kidnapping, false imprisonment and conspiracy to commit a crime but on Nov. 13 officials said no charges would be filed unless there is more evidence found.

Haunting crimes as Cleveland – site of 2014 Gay Games – tries to reinvent itself

The soul-searching has begun in and around Cleveland – again – as the chilling details emerge from the latest missing-women case to send a shiver through the metropolitan area.

A registered sex offender was charged on July 22 with murder and kidnapping in the slayings of three women whose bodies were found in plastic trash bags in a run-down East Cleveland neighborhood. It is the third major case in four years of multiple killings or abductions to haunt the Rust Belt metropolis.

“I do think we have to ask ourselves as a community the larger question: Why here, and what can we do to better understand the conditions that fostered this savage behavior?” said Dennis Eckert, a political and urban-policy consultant and former Cleveland-area congressman.

Some civic leaders say the explanation lies in the disintegration of neighborhoods and people’s connections to one another, plus a general mistrust of police – conditions that make it easier for a predator to kill without others noticing anything or reporting their suspicions.

Cleveland was a robust steel town for generations but has struggled for decades, ever since manufacturing went into a decline in the 1970s. Today it regularly ranks among the poorest big cities in America.

Per-capita income is just $17,000 in Cleveland and even lower, at $16,000, in next-door East Cleveland, where the bodies were found Friday and Saturday.

Greater Cleveland lost more jobs than other big city in the U.S. between May 2012 and this past May, at a time when hiring was finally picking up again in many parts of the country.

Last year, Cuyahoga County, home to both Cleveland and East Cleveland, topped the list of foreclosures in Ohio with 11,427, according to Policy Matters Ohio, a Cleveland think tank.

A walk down almost any street in East Cleveland brings the crisis home. Boarded-up houses and ramshackle apartment buildings are a common sight.

On July 21, volunteers scoured 40 of those homes, looking for any additional victims of Michael Madison, the man charged in the latest slayings.

A foul odor reported by a neighbor led to the discovery of the bodies and the arrest of Madison, 35, who served four years in prison for attempted rape and a drug offense.

At a court hearing on July 22, Madison was ordered held on $6 million bail. He did not enter a plea.

The medical examiner has yet to establish the victims’ cause of death; two were too badly decomposed to identify.

Authorities over the weekend said the victims were killed six to 10 days earlier. But the charges read in court specified a wider timeframe for the alleged crimes – days or months before the bodies were found.

In May, Cleveland was electrified by the discovery of three women who authorities say had been held captive for a decade in a house in a rough neighborhood dotted with boarded-up homes on Cleveland’s west side.

Ariel Castro, a former school bus driver, has been charged with nearly 1,000 counts of kidnapping, rape and other crimes and has pleaded not guilty. Many questioned how he could have held the women for so long without someone noticing something wrong.

Four years ago, Cleveland was shocked by the arrest of Anthony Sowell, who stalked and killed 11 women on Cleveland’s east side and hid the bodies around his house and yard. He was found guilty in 2011 and sentenced to death.

Many of Sowell’s victims were drug addicts who were never reported missing. Law enforcement authorities were accused of fostering an environment that made residents, many of them black, reluctant to call police.

That mistrust led to the creation of insular islands in poor neighborhoods that make it easy for predators like Sowell to operate, said James Renner, a Cleveland investigative reporter, film producer and author of “The Serial Killer’s Apprentice,” about 13 unsolved crimes in Cleveland.

“Human predators work very similarly to predators in nature,” Renner said. “They will go to the place that they have the highest rate of success, where they can stalk without being caught or seen or reported.”

Reinventing Cleveland

This week’s news comes at a time when Cleveland is in many ways reinventing itself.

The city just opened a $465 million convention center and exhibit hall. The Horseshoe Casino has opened in a former department store, bringing scores of visitors. And parts of downtown are bustling with a vibrant restaurant scene and the first new apartments in decades.

Across the street from the new convention center, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is hosting an exhibit on the Rolling Stones.

The Cleveland Indians are in second place in the American League’s Central Division.

And next year, the city hosts the Gay Games, expected to attract 30,000 visitors.

This week, the city is filling up with 11,000 older athletes competing in the National Senior Games.

But the lead headline in The Plain Dealer that greeted many participants Monday was: “Discovery of three bodies again raises issue of violence against women here.”

The crimes are affecting the image people have of Cleveland, said East Cleveland resident Ali Bilal.

“They’re thinking it’s one of those places that you don’t want to go,” he said. “It’s like a horror show.”

Yet ask other people in East Cleveland about the long-term effect of this latest tragedy, and many return to the same thing: At least it’s bringing people together.

“Maybe after all this, maybe this will bring a change to East Cleveland,” Vanessa Jones said Sunday as she watched investigators search a vacant lot near where the bodies were found. “Hopefully. Pray for that.”

Japanese politician clarifies remarks on wartime sex slavery, sex trade

An outspoken Japanese politician apologized on May 27 – Memorial Day in the U.S. – for saying U.S. troops should patronize adult entertainment businesses as a way to reduce sex crimes, but he defended another inflammatory remark about Japan’s use of sex slaves before and during World War II.

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, co-leader of an emerging nationalist party, said his remarks two weeks ago rose from a “sense of crisis” about cases of sexual assaults by U.S. military personnel on Japanese civilians in Okinawa, where a large number of U.S. troops are based under a bilateral security treaty.

Hashimoto also said he had not tried to condone a system of so-called comfort women, but meant to say military authorities at the time, not only in Japan but in many other countries, considered it necessary.

He denied any intention to avoid Japan’s responsibility over its wartime actions, adding he wanted to shed light on sex offenses in the battlefield and encourage open debate on the problem today.

“I understand that my remark could be construed as an insult to the U.S. forces and to the American people” and was inappropriate, he told a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo. “I retract this remark and express an apology.”

Hashimoto, a lawyer and former TV personality, created an uproar with comments to journalists two weeks ago about Japan’s modern and wartime sexual services, which he said were misquoted. The comments added to recent anger in neighboring countries that suffered from Japan’s wartime aggression and have complained about the lack of atonement for the atrocities.

Hashimoto said then that the practice of using women from across Asia to work in front-line brothels before and during World War II was necessary to maintain discipline and provide relaxation for soldiers. He added that on a recent visit to the southern island of Okinawa, he suggested to the U.S. commander there that his troops “make better use” of the legal sex industry “to control the sexual energy of those tough guys.”

On May 27, Hashimoto called the use of comfort women an “inexcusable act that violated the dignity and human rights of the women, in which large numbers of Korean and Japanese were included.” He did not mention women from other countries, such as China, the Philippines and Indonesia, where many teenagers had been forced into sex slavery.

He said Japan must express deep remorse and apologize to the women. He repeatedly denied any intention to whitewash Japan’s wartime responsibility.

But he didn’t apologize for those comments about Japan’s unresolved wartime action, and insisted that the country’s wartime government did not systematically force girls and women into prostitution.

Historians say up to 200,000 women, mainly from the Korean Peninsula and China, were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers in military brothels. While some other World War II armies had military brothels, Japan is the only country accused of such widespread, organized sexual slavery.

“If only Japan is blamed because of the widely held view that the state authority of Japan was intentionally involved in the abduction and trafficking of women, I will have to inform you that this view is incorrect,” he said.

Hashimoto urged the government to clarify or revise Japan’s landmark apology in a 1993 statement by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono to clearly state that Japan did not systematically force women into prostitution for its wartime military.

The Kono apology acknowledged the military’s involvement, both direct and indirect, in the forced recruitment of the women.

Hashimoto said the apology does not say whether the operation was run under “a state will” and that such murkiness has largely contributed to longstanding disputes between Japan and South Korea over the issue. He raised doubts of accounts by some of the women who have come forward as victims of Japan’s sexual slavery as reliable evidence of coercion.

Before taking office in December, Abe had advocated revising the Kono apology, but now says he stands by it.

Hashimoto said he was quoted out of context saying he believed that the use the system was necessary. He said he was trying to say that armed forces around the world “seem to have needed women” in past wars and had violated women’s human rights during wartime.

Singling out Japan was wrong, as this issue also existed in the armed forces of the United States, Britain, France, Germany and the former Soviet Union during World War II, he alleged, without elaborating.

“Based on the premise that Japan must remorsefully face its past offenses and must never justify the offenses, I intended to argue that other nations in the world must not attempt to conclude the matter by blaming only Japan and by associating Japan alone with the simple phrase of `sex slaves’ or `sex slavery,'” Hashimoto said in a statement to journalists.

Hashimoto, 43, has become well-known in recent years for his outspokenness. Last year, he formed the Japan Restoration Party with former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, a strident nationalist. It is now an opposition party in the parliament.

Pastor sentenced in US lesbian custody case

A Mennonite pastor who helped a still-missing woman and her daughter flee the country – and a custody fight with the woman’s former lesbian partner – joined his supporters in song after being told his 27-month prison sentenced could be put on hold while he appeals his conviction.

Kenneth Miller was still wearing his prison jumpsuit when he left federal court Monday in Burlington and met a crowd of about 100 supporters who came to Vermont from as far away as his home state of Virginia.

“I am grateful for the mercy of God,” Miller said, before joining his supporters in singing a hymn, “Our God, He is alive.”

During a two-hour sentencing hearing, Miller told U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions III he couldn’t promise he would not commit again aid in international parental kidnapping. Last summer a jury found him guilty of helping Lisa Miller and her now-10-year-old daughter, Isabella, travel from Virginia to the Canadian border and then on to Nicaragua via the Toronto airport.

Lisa Miller and Isabella are still believed to be hiding in Central America. They are not related to the pastor.

Kenneth Miller, 47, of Stuarts Draft, Virginia, said he acted out of conscience and a religious belief that finds the idea of same-sex marriage offensive after a desperate Lisa Miller came to him in September 2009. Miller said the woman pleaded for help escaping a court order that Isabella spend time with her former partner, Janet Jenkins, of Fair Haven, Vermont.

“I give myself unto you to do with me as you see fit,” an obviously emotional Miller told the judge in a courtroom packed with the same supporters who later sang with him outside.

Sessions said he admired Miller for the depth of his convictions, but he could not allow him to choose God’s law over his country’s, saying the pastor had helped deprive Isabella of Jenkins’ love.

“The horror of this cannot be overstated,” Sessions said.

Assistant United States Attorney Christina Nolan said Kenneth Miller’s actions were not those of someone full of love and compassion for other people – particularly Jenkins – as he and others have claimed.

“He didn’t see her as a human being. He saw her primarily as a homosexual associated with the powers of darkness,” Nolan said.

Lisa Miller and Jenkins were joined in a Vermont civil union in 2000 and Isabella was born to Lisa in 2002. The couple split in 2003 and a Vermont family court gave custody of Isabella to Lisa Miller with regular visitation for Jenkins.

Lisa Miller then returned to Virginia, became a conservative Christian, renounced homosexuality and sought full custody. Two months after Lisa Miller and Isabella fled the country, a Vermont family court judge transferred custody of the girl to Jenkins, who was not in court Monday.

Kenneth Miller had been jailed since Jan. 24 for contempt of court after refusing repeated orders to testify before a federal grand jury seeking information about others involved in the flight of Lisa Miller and Isabella. At the end of Monday’s hearing, Sessions released him from the contempt citation saying additional incarceration was unlikely to compel him to testify.

Kenneth Miller’s attorneys are planning to appeal. They argued the law that allowed Kenneth Miller to be tried in Vermont for a crime that neither occurred nor was planned in the state was likely to be overturned on appeal.

Sessions, the judge, said the appeals process could take years.

Attacker apologizes to victim for brutal anti-gay hate attack

A man convicted of kidnapping has apologized to his victim in southern Kentucky.

WYMT-TV in Hazard reported Anthony Jenkins, 20, apologized to Kevin Pennington at a U.S. District Court hearing in London. He told Pennington he wasn’t proud of what he did.

Prosecutors won kidnapping convictions against Jenkins and his cousin, Jason Jenkins, 37, but jurors did not convict the men of a hate crime.

“I regret participating in this assault on April 4, 2011. It’s not something I am proud of. I understand how one bad choice can affect so many lives,” Anthony Jenkins told Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove, adding that his mother was killed in 2006. “I’m asking on your behalf if you’ll have mercy on me.”

Prosecutors asked the court to send Anthony Jenkins to prison for more than 19 years and Jason Jenkins for nearly 34 years, saying they abducted Pennington because he is gay. They called the attack “horrific and violent” and said the suspects “intended to kill him.”

Kevin Pennington also addressed the judge, saying he still suffers from injuries he received in the attack.

“The night this happened, I begged these people to stop, and never not once did they stop,” he said. “It got worse. They had every intentions of killing me. I endured pain, not just physical, the terror.”

Jason Jenkins declined to make a statement to the judge.

Last October, a federal jury convicted the two Jenkins on federal kidnapping charges and conspiracy charges, exposing them to a maximum of life imprisonment. The jury also acquitted the men of violating the sexual orientation provision of the Matthew Shepard James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. .

The federal jury in London, Kentucky, convicted the defendants for their conduct related to the April 4, 2011 assault of Pennington. Testimony at trial established that the defendants, who are cousins, carried out the crime with help from two other relatives – Mable Ashley Jenkins, 20; and Alexis LeeAnn Jenkins, 19 – who both pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting kidnapping and aiding and abetting the hate crime assault against Pennington prior to trial and testified against the defendants.

During the hearing, Mable Ashley Jenkins testified her husband Jason Jenkins used to beat her up and was prone to violence. Another woman testified Jason Jenkins once raped and beat her.

Alexis Jenkins, the wife of Anthony Jenkins, testified he used to hit her.

Both women pleaded guilty to federal hates crimes charges, representing the first federal convictions under the sexual orientation provision of the Matthew Shepard James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, according to the FBI.

The evidence established that the defendants and their female co-conspirators planned in advance of the assault to kidnap Pennington, take him to a remote location, and beat him to death. After luring Pennington by false pretenses into a truck being driven by Anthony Jenkins, the group drove Pennington up a deserted mountain road into Kingdom Come State Park, where they dragged Pennington into the road and beat him.

The evidence also established that Pennington escaped while the defendants were searching in the back of the truck for a tire iron to use to kill Pennington. Pennington ran off the road and threw himself over a ledge, where he hid behind a rock until the defendants finally gave up searching for him and drove away. Pennington staggered part-way down the mountain, where he found a ranger shack, broke a window, and called 911.

The defendant’s co-conspirators, Ashley and Alexis Jenkins, both testified that they and the defendants had agreed in advance to lure Pennington into the truck, drive him to a deserted area, and beat him because of his sexual orientation. The women also testified that during the beating, the defendants and their co-conspirators used anti-gay slurs and yelled, “Kill the f—t!” and that the group intended to kill Pennington

No date has been set for pronouncement of sentencing.

Pastor to be sentenced for kidnapping in custody dispute

A Mennonite pastor is scheduled to be sentenced in March for his conviction on a charge he helped a Virginia woman and her daughter flee the country three years ago rather than allow the girl to have regular visits with the woman’s former lesbian partner.

Kenneth Miller of Stuarts Draft, Va., faces up to three years in prison when he is sentenced in federal court in Burlington, Vt., on March 4.

His attorney, Brooks McArthur of Burlington, wouldn’t say last week what sentence he would seek for Miller. He plans to file a sentencing memo ahead of the hearing.

Kenneth Miller was convicted last summer for helping Lisa Miller and her daughter Isabella flee the country in 2009, several days before the girl was scheduled for a weekend visit with Lisa Miller’s former partner, Janet Jenkins of Fair Haven. It was also two months ahead of an anticipated order from a Vermont judge transferring custody of the girl from Lisa Miller to Jenkins. The Millers are not related.

A civil lawsuit by Jenkins at the conclusion of Kenneth Miller’s criminal trial is also pending. A number of the defendants, including Kenneth Miller, Liberty University and the Thomas Road Baptist Church, both in Lynchburg, Va., filed documents in court late Friday asking a judge to dismiss the civil case filed by Jenkins. They argued, in part, that the case should not have been brought in Vermont.

And Miller’s attorneys continued to fight a subpoena from federal prosecutors that he testify before a grand jury, presumably about other people involved in helping the Lisa Miller and her daughter travel from Virginia to Canada and then on to Nicaragua where they are still believed to be living.

Kenneth Miller had been scheduled to testify last week before the grand jury, but a federal appeals court in New York pushed that back.

“We do not want to put him in the position where if he testifies in front of the grand jury, he may make a statement that may be adverse to him at his sentencing,” said McArthur. “We’re looking forward to litigating the issue down in New York before the 2nd circuit.”

Prosecutors have guaranteed Miller immunity for his grand jury testimony, court documents showed. The U.S. attorney’s office refuses to discuss the grand jury proceedings.

Jenkins and Lisa Miller were joined in a Vermont civil union in 2000 and Isabella was born to Lisa in 2002. The couple split in 2003. A Vermont family court awarded custody of Isabella to Lisa Miller but gave Jenkins regular visitation. 

Lisa Miller returned to Virginia, became a conservative Christian, renounced homosexuality and sought full custody of the girl. The two fought a yearslong legal battle that reached the supreme courts of Vermont and Virginia. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Ultimately, the courts agreed the case should be treated the same as any custody dispute between heterosexual parents.

During Kenneth Miller’s August trial, prosecutors used cellphone records and sometimes-reluctant witnesses to lay out a broad network he oversaw that helped Lisa Miller and Isabella travel first to Canada and then Nicaragua.

At Jenkins’ lawsuit, she maintains Miller and the others conspired to kidnap Isabella, thwarting the family court orders that Isabella spend time with Jenkins and, after the change of custody was ordered, that Jenkins was to become the legal parent.

Mixed verdict from Kentucky jury in U.S. hate-crime case

UPDATED: The first U.S. prosecution under a new federal law against anti-gay violence ended with a Kentucky jury acquitting two cousins of hate-crime charges while finding them guilty of kidnapping in a 2011 attack on a gay man.

Prosecutors had argued that Anthony Ray Jenkins and his cousin David Jason Jenkins attacked 29-year-old Kevin Pennington at a rural state park because of Pennington’s sexual orientation, violating a hate crime law that was expanded in 2009 to cover assaults motivated by bias against gays, lesbians and transgender people.

It was not clear why jurors late on Oct. 24 rejected that argument.

Responding this evening the to result, Brandon Combs of the Kentucky Equality Federation said, “The acquittal of these individuals from the hate crime aspect of this case is truly a disappointment. This is a failing by prosecutors to make their case beyond a reasonable doubt, but this should serve as a rallying point around which the LGBTI community can gather and we thank the U.S. Department of Justice for responding to our request to prosecute this case. If there is any positive to take away from this ruling, it is that Mr. Pennington did receive some measure of justice, albeit not what he deserved.”

Anthony Jenkins’ attorney, Willis Coffey, said after the trial that jurors didn’t find Pennington’s account of the events credible.

“You’d like to have an acquittal on all counts, but he’s happy he was found not guilty of a hate crime,” Coffey said of his client. “So am I.”

Government attorneys have said this is the first U.S. prosecution charging a violation of the sexual orientation section of the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed in 2009.

Pennington held hands with family members and let out an audible sigh when the not-guilty verdicts on the hate-crimes charges were announced. He left the courtroom without talking to news reporters.

Jimmy Jenkins, an uncle who raised Anthony Jenkins, dropped his head into his hands and cried when the cousins were found guilty on the charges of kidnapping and conspiracy to a kidnapping.

They are scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 21.

Throughout the trial, the defense argued that any dispute between the Jenkinses and Pennington was over a drug deal gone sour.

Andrew Stephens, the attorney for David Jason Jenkins, argued that his client had at least 21 beers on the day of the assault and was too drunk to have formulated a plan for such an attack.

“These people who were stoned and drunk were going to form a plan? When this event took place, they were all about drugs,” Stephens said.

Coffee argued that Anthony Jenkins has an IQ of roughly 75 and was merely a follower who does not hate gay people. He called the allegations “the nearest thing to nothing I have ever seen.”

Coffey said Pennington pushed the idea that he was attacked for being gay to serve his own political agenda. Coffey invoked the name of President Barack Obama, who is unpopular in Kentucky and lost badly in the state four years ago.

“If the government and President Obama want to bow to the special-interest groups, that’s their business, but they picked the wrong case,” Coffey said.

U.S. Justice Department civil rights attorney AeJean Cha told jurors that the Jenkins cousins and two women planned to kidnap, beat and kill Pennington because of his sexual orientation.

“This is not about drugs, this is about the fact that Kevin is gay,” Cha said.

Hawkins also played a tape of Pennington’s 911 call after the attack. On the tape, Pennington’s voice can be heard cracking as he tries to describe the attack and relay information.

“They’re trying to kill me,” Pennington told the 911 operator on April 4, 2011. “I didn’t know what they were going to do. I think it’s because I’m gay.”

Lesbian mom accuses Christian right activists of racketeering, kidnaping

A Vermont woman says the ex-partner who took their daughter and fled to Nicaragua and the Christian-right activists who aided her are guilty of racketeering and kidnapping.

Janet Jenkins’ lawsuit, filed in August in the U.S. District Court for Vermont, alleges civil rights abuses, conspiracy, money-laundering, kidnapping, mail fraud and violations under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The act, commonly known as RICO, has been used to go after mobsters, motorcycle gangs, business magnates, anti-abortion activists and, most recently, a Texas health care provider.

The defendants in the suit include Jenkins’ ex, Lisa Miller, as well as pastor Kenneth Miller, Nicaragua resident and pastor Timothy Miller, Virginia pastor Doug Wright, Ohio resident Andrew Yoder, Virginia residents Philip Zodhiates, Victory Hyden Zodhiates and Linda Wall, Christian AID Ministries, Response Unlimited, Liberty University School of Law and Thomas Road Baptist Church.

In a criminal trial in August, a Vermont jury found Kenneth Miller guilty of aiding an international parental kidnapping in the Jenkins-Miller case. The government proved that Kenneth Miller helped Lisa Miller, no relation, take Isabella Ruth Miller-Jenkins, now 10, from the United States to Nicaragua, where the United States has no extradition treaty. The mother and daughter are believed to be living in that country, sheltered by the Nicaragua Beachy Amish-Mennonite Christian Brethren.

The same day the jury convicted Kenneth Miller, Janet Jenkins of Fair Haven, Vt., filed her civil complaint.

Isabella Miller-Jenkins was born in 2002, when Jenkins and Miller were in a civil union in Vermont. When the child was 17-months-old, Miller took her to Virginia and filed a petition in Rutland, Vt., family court to dissolve the civil union.

Jenkins’ suit says courts in both Virginia and Vermont still recognize that Rutland family court has “exclusive jurisdiction over custody determinations regarding Isabella Miller-Jenkins, that she has a right to a relationship with both of her parents, and that it is in her best interests to have contact with both of her parents on a schedule ordered by the Court.”

Miller, at the time she was dissolving the union, was getting involved in Christian fundamentalism and joined the Keystone Baptist Church in Winchester, Va. She became friends with Wright and began to deny the court-ordered contact between Jenkins and Isabella.

As early as 2004, Miller was being cited for contempt in Vermont courts for violating the custody arrangement.

The refusal to allow Jenkins visitation with their daughter intensified when Miller moved to Lynchburg, Va., joined the Thomas Road Baptist Church, began working for the Liberty Christian Academy elementary school and was associating with anti-gay activists in the Liberty community fostered by the late evangelist Jerry Farwell Sr., an architect of the anti-gay rights movement.

In 2009, a Vermont court awarded Jenkins full custody, but she says she’s only seen her daughter twice since 2008. And Isabella Miller-Jenkins has been listed as missing by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children since Jan. 1, 2010.

Jenkins, in the civil suit, says that’s because a network of anti-gay, Christian right activists helped Miller flee the United States with her daughter and the organized network continues to shield Miller in Nicaragua.

Jenkins says Lisa Miller fled the United States in September 2009, carrying out a plan concocted with Christian right activists throughout the summer of 2009 and possibly discussed as early as June 2008. That’s when allies associated with Liberty and Thomas Road Baptist Church helped establish The Protect Isabella Coalition. Jerry Falwell Jr., who succeeded his father as chancellor of Liberty University, donated substantial sums to the coalition, according to Jenkins’ suit.

The flight from the U.S. took place on Sept. 22, 2009, when “Lisa Miller and Isabella were transported, in disguise as Amish-Mennonites, to the Canadian border by Philip Zodhiates and at least one other Response Unlimited, Inc. employee. Lisa Miller and Isabella crossed the border at the Rainbow Bridge in a taxi in the early morning hours of September 22, 2009.” From there, aided by Zodhiates and Kenneth Miller, the two flew to Mexico, then El Salvador and then met Timothy Miller, no relation, in Nicaragua.

Lisa Miller’s attorneys at Liberty Counsel have maintained they were unaware of her plans to flee the country, but phone records show calls from Zodhiates to Liberty Counsel numbers on Sept. 22, 2009.

Two months later, in November 2009, according to Jenkins’ suit, elders of the Thomas Road Baptist Church packed up the personal belongings of Lisa Miller in two bags. These bags were picked up from Lynchburg, Va., by Philip Zodhiates, who arranged to have the bags transported to Nicaragua and delivered at the airport to Timothy Miller.

On Nov. 20, 2009, with Lisa Miller and Isabella in Nicaragua, the Rutland, Vt., Family Court issued its order that “legal and physical parental rights and responsibilities for Isabella are to be transferred to plaintiff Janet Jenkins.”

Lisa Miller’s allies at Liberty described the defiance of the court order as Christian civil disobedience and have continued to collect money for her through the Friends of Lisa Miller campaign.