Quantcast

Amish guilty of hate crimes in Ohio beard-cuttings

By Thomas J. Sheeran

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Sept. 21 2012 1:05 a.m. MDT

Two Amish women walk to the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Cleveland on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012. The jury will begin their fifth day of deliberations in the trial of 16 Amish people accused of hate crimes in hair- and beard-cutting attacks against fellow Amish in Ohio.

Scott R. Galvin, Associated Press

CLEVELAND — Sixteen men and women who rejected lenient plea deals are facing lengthy prison terms for their convictions in the hair- and beard-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in Ohio.

The trial focused on an internal Amish dispute and offered a rare and sometimes lurid glimpse into the closed and usually self-regulating community of believers.

The defendants, with about 50 children between them and including six couples, were convicted Thursday in U.S. District Court after 4½ days of deliberations.

The defendants had rejected plea deals which offered leniency, with some likely to face only probation. With the convictions, some defendants could now get sentences of 20 years or more.

Members of the defense team said appeals were likely and would focus on whether the beard-cuttings amounted to religious-based hate crimes.

Judge Dan Aaron Polster scheduled sentencing for Jan. 24.

Prosecutors planned to file a request Friday to revoke bond and lock up defendants who had remained free pending trial. The judge asked the defense team to respond by Tuesday.

Rhonda Kotnik, representing Kathryn Miller, said the verdicts would destroy the Amish community of about 25 families.

"The community is going to be ripped apart. I don't know what's going to happen to all their children," she said.

Samuel Mullet Sr., 66, the leader of the breakaway group, was found guilty of orchestrating the cuttings last fall.

The government said the cuttings were an attempt to shame members of Mullet's community who he believed were straying from their beliefs. His followers were found guilty of carrying out the attacks, which terrorized the normally peaceful religious settlement that aims to live simply and piously.

Prosecutors and witnesses described how sons pulled their father out of bed and chopped off his beard in the moonlight and how women surrounded their mother-in-law and cut off two feet of her hair, taking it down to the scalp in some places.

Prosecutors say they targeted hair because it carries spiritual significance in their faith.

All the defendants are members of Mullet's settlement that he founded in eastern Ohio near the West Virginia panhandle. The Amish eschew many conveniences of modern life, including electrical appliances and automobiles, and embrace their centuries-old roots.

Federal officials said the verdicts would send a message about religious intolerance.

"The victims in this case are members of a peaceful and traditional religion who simply wanted to be left to practice their religion in peace," U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach said. "Unfortunately, the defendants denied them this basic right and they did so in the most violent way."

Members of the Amish community who sat through the trial hurried into a hired van without commenting, some covering their faces.

Defense attorneys said the defendants were bewildered by the verdicts.

"They really don't understand the court system the way the rest of us have, being educated and reading newspapers," said Joseph Dubyak, whose client, Linda Schrock, has 10 children with her husband, who was also convicted.

The suspects had argued that the Amish are bound by different rules guided by their religion and that the government had no place getting involved in what amounted to a family or church dispute.

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS