CLEVELAND — A judge reduced the prison terms Monday for the leader of a breakaway Amish group and seven of his followers who chopped off the hair and beards of Amish people with whom they disagreed.
Some of the seven victims in the 2011 attacks were awakened in the middle of the night, restrained and forcibly disfigured in an effort to destroy an important symbol of their beliefs.
A sheriff testified at trial that one bishop's hair was unevenly chopped to the scalp, leaving it bloody. Another victim said four or five men dragged him out of his house by his chest-length beard and chopped it to within 1 1/2 inches of his chin.
Last year, an appeals court dismissed hate crimes convictions against the 16 men and women, including the Ohio group's leader, Samuel Mullet Sr. On Monday, Judge Dan Aaron Polster resentenced them on their remaining charges, principally conspiracy to obstruct justice.
Mullet's 15-year sentence was reduced to 10 years, nine months. Sentences for four men who received seven years were cut to five years. Sentences for three men who got five years were lowered to three years, seven months.
The other eight, including six women, have served their sentences.
None of the 16 defendants spoke in court.
Prosecutors argued in motions that the original sentences should have remained intact because of the defendants' religious motivation and because the sentences were lower than what federal guidelines allowed.
Attorneys for all the imprisoned men asked Polster to reduce their client's sentences to time served, allowing for their release. Edward Bryan, one of Samuel Mullet's attorneys, argued in court that it would be an "irrational fear" to think his client would commit another crime.
The Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals dismissed the hate crime convictions because of improper jury instructions by Polster on whether the 16 were involved in the hair and beard cutting because of the victims' religion.
Polster on Monday made it clear that he remains convinced that the attacks were "substantially motivated by the victims' religion." He said the defendants inflicted trauma on the victims and trampled on their First Amendment right of religious freedom.
"The remaining eight defendants still warrant substantial sentences," Polster said.
Mullet did not participate in any of the attacks, but assistant U.S. attorney Bridget Brennan said in court Monday that Mullet exerted tight control as bishop and leader of the community and encouraged the attacks. She said each one began and ended at Mullet's home.
"These were orchestrated, terrorizing attacks," Brennan said.
Bryan tried to evoke sympathy for Samuel Mullet by pointing out that his wife of nearly 40 years died in November and that some members of his community in Bergholz near the panhandle of West Virginia have left the group, including a co-defendant whose husband was one of those resentenced Monday.
"No one is trying to minimize what happened," Bryan said. "It was wrong. My client knows that."
The community has been shunned since the attacks by other Amish communities and hasn't been able to find another Amish bishop willing to perform marriages and funerals, the defense said.
"A stigma will forever be attached to this community," Mullet's attorneys said.
Hair and beards have spiritual significance in the Amish faith. Amish men do not shave their beards after marriage, believing it signifies their devotion to God.