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Courts and Crime


Jury convicts Amish group of hate crimes in hair and beard cutting attacks
Sam Mullet Sr. and his followers face stiff prison terms for attacks
by WKSU's KEVIN NIEDERMIER


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Kevin Niedermier
 
U.S Attorney Steve Dettlebach show letters written by Amish expressing fear of Sam Mullet Sr. and his followers.
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A federal jury in Cleveland has convicted an Amish bishop and his followers of committing hate crimes against other Amish. Sam Mullet Sr. and 15 followers were convicted today of cutting the hair and beards of victims based on religious differences. But defense attorneys say they’ll appeal.                                                                                                 
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In its fifth day of deliberations, the jury concluded that Sam Mullett encouraged his followers to carry out five hair and beard cutting attacks on fellow Amish Mullet believed were not strict enough. Hair and beards are considered religious symbols in Amish religion. The defendants are all from Bergholz, Ohio, and are considered to be an ultra-conservation breakaway sect. The defense said the attacks were simply family disputes not based on religion. It rested its case last week without calling any witnesses. At a press conference following the verdict, U.S. Attorney Steve Dettlebach called the convictions a victory for religious freedom.

“These were violent attacks that left the victims so shaken, degraded and scared that they were compelled to call local law enforcement for protection even though they don’t typically do that. And they needed the protection of the law.”

Dettlebach showed a handful of letters he says the U.S. Attorney’s office received from members of the Amish community around Bergholtz.

“Peaceful, scared people who wrote to us many times, unsolicited, saying the defendants were dangerous, and thanking and praying for the prosecution to continue its work.”

The jury of 7 men and 5 women had to decide if the attacks were simply assaults or religious hate crimes, whether there was bodily injury. Stu Smith of Ashtabula County was one of the jurors.

“The difficulty of separating personal and religious aspects of the trial were the most difficult.”

Besides the hate crime question, jurors also considered and convicted Mullet and a follower conspiracy, evidence tampering and obstructing justice. Holmes County Prosecutor Steve Knowling started the case against Mullet and his followers, a case that has drawn questions about government getting involved with religious disputes inside the isolated Amish community.

“A lot of people asking me, why was this being prosecuted, why is it such a big deal? We thought of it as a home invasion from the beginning. Thugs are thugs, cowards are cowards, it doesn’t make any difference what their religion is. They came to the front door of someone’s home and assaulted 2 elderly people and a child. If you don’t prosecute that you probably shouldn’t be a prosecutor.”

Sentencing is set for January 24th.  The defendants rejected plea bargains, and some of them could receive up to 20-year in prison.                                     

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