CLEVELAND — Prosecutors hope the ringleader of beard- and hair-cutting attacks on fellow Amish will receive a life prison term Friday when he's sentenced in a case that shed unwelcome light on discipline and dissent in a community that tries to stay apart from modern culture.
The ringleader, Samuel Mullet Sr., and 15 members of his extended family face sentencing in U.S. District Court and could receive more than 10 years in prison.
The 10 men and six women were convicted last year in five attacks in Amish communities in northeast and eastern Ohio in 2011.
The government says the attacks were retaliation against Amish who had defied or denounced Mullet's authoritarian style. The 67-year-old Mullet called it an internal faith matter that didn't rise to a hate crime.
Mullet's attorney asked for a sentence of two years or less.
Amish believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards once they marry. Cutting it would be offensive to Amish.
The defendants were charged with a hate crime because prosecutors believe religious differences brought about the attacks.
Nine of 10 men who were convicted have been locked up awaiting sentencing. The six women, who all have children, have been free on bond.
In a rare interview last week in Bergholz at the sprawling Mullet farm amid rolling hills in eastern Ohio, Mullet's unmarried 19-year-old grandson, Edward Mast, discussed the family's attitude. He said they are steadfast in the belief that the attacks didn't rise to the level of a hate crime.
"The beard, what it stands for me, what I know about it, once you're married, you just grow a beard. That's just the way the Amish is," Mast said.
As for the victims, he added, "They got their beard back again, so what's the big deal about it?"
Arlene Miller, 48, of Carrollton, whose husband, an Amish bishop, was among the victims, thinks Mullet deserves a tough sentence and the others should get less time if they get cult deprogramming counseling.
"It's a cult," she said. "Their minds were programmed in the wrong way by Sam Mullet, so we feel like these people are very deceived and they are actually victims of Sam Mullet."
She said there were no winners in the ordeal. "There's no happy ending to this," she said.
Mullet's family denies his community is a cult.