An American pastor who was sentenced for helping a woman flee to Central America to escape a custody battle with her lesbian partner has said the case should be dismissed as the crime did not take place in Vermont, where he was sentenced.

The Reverend Kenneth Miller was sentenced by a Federal Court in Vermont to 27 months in prison after he was convicted on the charges in August 2012. He was found to have helped Lisa Miller (no relation) and her daughter Isabella illegally leave the US, arranging transport that took the pair from Virginia to Canada, and then on to Nicaragua. They are still believed to be hiding in Central America.

Ms Miller had been fleeing a court order which required her to give custody of Isabella to her former partner, Janet Jenkins, as Ms Miller had been defying visitation orders for three years.

Now Reverend Miller has filed new court papers asking for the case against him to be dismissed, as he was sentenced in Vermont, which he says had no connection to the case.

Prosecutors say it was appropriate for the case to take place there as technically no crime was committed until Ms Miller left the country.

Ms Miller told Rev Miller she had “renounced” being gay after becoming an evangelical Christian when she appealed to him for help in keeping custody of Isabella.

In Nicaragua she and Isabella were apparently taken in by a group of American Mennonites who felt they needed to protect the latter from what they deem to be a sinful lesbian lifestyle.

The prosecution for the case said: “Because of [Rev Miller’s] brazen intervention, a child — an American citizen — is growing up outside this country, and a mother must bear the unimaginable daily torment of being separated from her child, without any word on her child’s health or well-being. Kenneth Miller’s offense could not be more serious.”

Rev Miller told the court he had acted out of his Christian convictions, believing that the child should not be brought up by a lesbian and saying he had followed the law of God above the law of the US.

During the sentencing Judge William Sessions told Rev Miller that he admired the strength of his convictions, but said they were misguided, condemning him for depriving a child of the care of one of her mothers.

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

Attorney Christina Nolan argued that Rev Miller’s actions were, in fact, far removed from Christian ideals of love: ”He didn’t see [Janet Jenkins] as a human being. He saw her primarily as a homosexual associated with the powers of darkness.”

On leaving the court Rev Miller was met by around 100 Mennonite followers, who sang hymns with him.

He had been in jail since January for refusing to testify against his accomplices in the case or help the courts locate Ms Miller and Isabella.

A Mennonite supporter said: “[Miller] cannot conscientiously testify against a fellow citizen of God’s Kingdom who was acting in good faith to obey the laws of Christ.” Another said the Reverend had been viewing his time in jail as a “spiritual retreat”.

Judge Sessions said that Rev Miller would be released, as the jail time had not convinced him to testify.

The 27 month sentence was suspended until this appeal has been considered. Lawyers for Rev Miller are arguing that he should have been tried in Virginia rather than in Vermont, where the custody battle began.

The Judge admitted that the appeal had a chance of success, and that it could take several years to process. In the meantime, Rev Miller will be able to live at home with minimal supervision.