Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Backlog: Amish sect leader and followers receive prison sentences for beard- and hair-cutting attacks against other Amish

As reported by Erik Eckholm in The New York Times, September 20, 2012 (links in original):

Samuel Mullet Sr., the domineering leader of a renegade Amish sect, and 15 of his followers were convicted on Thursday in Cleveland of federal conspiracy and hate crimes for a series of bizarre beard- and hair-cutting attacks last fall that spread fear through the Amish of eastern Ohio.

The convictions of Mr. Mullet, along with several relatives and others from his settlement who carried out the assaults, could bring lengthy prison terms. The verdicts were a vindication for federal prosecutors, who made a risky decision to apply a 2009 federal hate-crimes law to the sect’s violent efforts to humiliate Amish rivals.

Defense lawyers in the case and an independent legal expert had argued that the government was overreaching by turning a personal vendetta within the Amish community, and related attacks, into a federal hate-crimes case. But the jury accepted the prosecutors’ description of the attacks as an effort to suppress the victims’ practice of religion, finding Mr. Mullet and the other defendants guilty on nearly all the charges they faced of conspiracy, hate crimes and obstruction of justice.

The victims “simply wanted to be left to practice their own religion in their own way in peace,” Steven M. Dettelbach, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said in a news conference after the verdicts were announced. “The defendants invaded their homes, physically attacked these people and sheared them almost like animals,” Mr. Dettelbach said.

Mr. Mullet, 66, the founder of a community near Bergholz, Ohio, and 15 followers, including six women, were tried for their roles in five separate attacks last fall, involving assaults on nine people whom Mr. Mullet had described as enemies. The jury, which had no Amish members, heard three weeks of testimony and deliberated more than four days before reaching a verdict at midday on Thursday.

Although Mr. Mullet did not directly participate, prosecutors labeled him the mastermind of the assaults, in which groups of his followers invaded the homes of victims, threw them down and sheared their beards and hair. Among the traditional Amish, men’s long beards and women’s uncut hair are central to religious identity.

Prosecutors argued that the attacks were intended to humiliate those who questioned Mr. Mullet’s cultlike methods, which included forcing errant followers to sleep in chicken coops and pressing married women — including his own daughter-in-law — to accept his intimate sexual “counseling.”

Some of the victims had angered Mr. Mullet by refusing to honor his shunning decrees against his foes, calling them an improper use of his power as a bishop and accepting those he sought to banish into their own churches. Other victims had moved out of his settlement and attacked him as a cult leader.

The peculiar attacks first drew national attention last fall when several men from the Bergholz settlement were arrested on state kidnapping and burglary charges. The assaults, and then the public trial, were a searing experience for the region’s Amish, who normally lead placid and intensely private lives, without electricity or cars, and try to settle disputes peacefully without involving law enforcement.

The testimony included an elderly woman’s account of her terror as six of her children and their spouses made a surprise late-night visit, with the men holding down her sobbing husband as they hacked off his beard and hair and the women cut her waist-length hair to above the ears as she prayed aloud.

During the testimony, the 16 defendants, in traditional attire, and their lawyers sat around four tables that took up half the courtroom. In the gallery sat dozens of Amish supporters of the victims, including several of Mr. Mullet’s elderly siblings, who shook their heads as witnesses described his unorthodox methods. Also in the gallery was Mr. Mullet’s wife, who sat impassively as a woman who used to live in Bergholz spoke of how Mr. Mullet pressured her to come to his bed.

The stakes for the defendants were raised when federal prosecutors stepped in to charge Mr. Mullet and 15 others, including several of his children and other relatives, with federal conspiracy and hate-crime charges that carry potential sentences of several decades. Judge Dan Aaron Polster scheduled sentencing for Jan. 24.

The defendants did not deny their roles in the attacks, which were carried out with battery-powered clippers, scissors and razor-sharp shears that are designed to trim horse manes. Rather, the case turned on the motives for the attacks and whether it was appropriate to make them into a major federal case under a 2009 hate-crimes law.

To prove the most serious charges, the jurors had to be convinced that the defendants had caused “bodily injury,” which could mean “disfigurement,” and that the attacks were based mainly on religious differences. Lawyers for the defense argued that cutting hair was not disfigurement and that the attacks resulted from family and personal differences, including a bitter custody battle involving a daughter of Mr. Mullet’s, as well as disputes over the “true” Amish way.

During the trial, Edward G. Bryan, Mr. Mullet’s lawyer, said that his client might have known about the attacks but did not order them. According to testimony, Mr. Mullet stayed up late to greet attackers when they returned to the compound after one of the assaults, accepting a bag of shorn hair as well as disposable cameras used to record the victims’ humiliation. The prosecutors argued that his followers would not have acted without Mr. Mullet’s approval, citing what one of his sisters called the zombielike obedience of Bergholz residents.

Mr. Bryan said Thursday that Mr. Mullet planned to appeal, in part on the grounds that the federal law had been misapplied.
As reported by Trip Gabriel in The New York Times, February 8, 2013 (link in original):

The leader of a dissident Amish sect was sentenced on Friday to 15 years in prison for a series of bizarre beard- and hair-cutting attacks on other Ohio Amish that drew national attention.

Samuel Mullet Sr., 67, the leader, was sentenced in Federal District Court in Cleveland for coordinating assaults that prosecutors argued were motivated by religious intolerance. Fifteen of his followers, including six women, were given lesser sentences, ranging from one year and one day to seven years.

The breakaway Amish were convicted last year of multiple counts of conspiracy and hate crimes, which carry harsher punishment than simple assault.

Prosecutors had asked for a life sentence for Mr. Mullet. Defense lawyers claimed the government was blowing out of proportion personal vendettas that Mr. Mullet harbored against former followers and other critics, and thus did not deserve a long sentence.

But in passing sentence Judge Dan Aaron Polster told Mr. Mullet and his co-defendants that they were being punished for depriving victims of a constitutional right, religious freedom, whose fruits they enjoyed themselves as Amish through exemptions from jury service and other laws.

“Each of you has received the benefits of that First Amendment,” Judge Polster said...

...Prosecutors argued that because of the religious symbolism of the attacks, they were hate crimes. Mr. Mullet was convicted of coordinating four attacks on a total of eight victims, though by all accounts he did not directly participate.

Speaking in court Friday before the sentencing, his ankles in chains and a white beard reaching his chest, Mr. Mullet said he was being labeled a cult leader, which he denied. He asked to be given the punishment for all the defendants, who included four married couples. “Let these moms and dads go home to their families, raise their children, I’ll take the punishment for everybody,” Mr. Mullet said, according to WKYC-TV in Cleveland.

Although Mr. Mullet is an Amish bishop, his strict interpretation of his faith and an abrasive personality had caused individuals to leave his fold and other Amish leaders to isolate him. He presided over a settlement of about 18 families reached by a dirt track near the town of Bergholz.

The trial of the 16 defendants, including three of Mr. Mullet’s sons, unveiled a tiny sect in thrall to its leader, who in the name of purity abolished Sunday church services and punished men for ogling non-Amish women by confining them to chicken coops. Testimony also detailed how Mr. Mullet pressured married female followers to have sex with him, including a daughter-in-law.

Another defendant, Lester Miller, apologized before the sentencing to his parents, whom he and others, including his wife, Elizabeth Miller, had attacked. He asked the judge to spare his wife, “to put her sentence on me,” so she could care for their 11 children, according to WKYC-TV.

Many of the defendants also asked the judge to give them all or part of Mr. Mullet’s sentence and to lighten his burden.

Ms. Miller and four other women received the shortest sentence, a year and a day, and the sixth woman, Linda Schrock, was given two years.

Mr. Mullet’s lawyer, Edward G. Bryan, had argued that his client had not directly ordered the attacks and asked for a short sentence. All the defendants have two weeks to file appeals.

In handing Mr. Mullet 15 years, Judge Polster said he oversaw his flock with “an iron hand” and that he was “a danger to the community.”

Steven M. Dettelbach, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, argued in a sentencing memo that Mr. Mullet was responsible for the crimes because he preached to followers that “Amish hypocrites” should be punished.

Mr. Dettelbach said in an interview that he was satisfied that all of the defendants were given prison time.

“In court today, sitting there and watching defendant after defendant after defendant stand and say they would yet again sacrifice years of their lives so Mr. Mullet would not have to be punished, proved the court judge was absolutely right in characterizing Mr. Mullet’s control over these people,” Mr. Dettelbach said. “Whether or not you call that a cult is none of my business.”

Throughout the ordeal, Mr. Mullet’s community of about 135 has stood by him, vowing to continue living in isolation from other Amish, whom they condemn for drinking, smoking and playing musical instruments.
As reported by Mr. Eckholm, August 27, 2014:

A federal appeals court on Wednesday overturned the hate-crimes convictions of the leader of a breakaway Amish sect and his followers who sowed fear in the Amish of eastern Ohio in 2011 for a bizarre series of attacks in which they cut the hair and beards of rivals.

But the sect’s leader, Samuel Mullet Sr., who is serving a 15-year sentence, will not immediately be freed, and nor will eight followers who are still in prison with lesser sentences.

While their hate-crimes convictions were voided, the defendants remain under indictment for those crimes and could be retried. Federal prosecutors have weeks to decide whether to appeal Wednesday’s decision, call for a new trial or drop the case. The convictions of Mr. Mullet and his followers for the lesser crime of obstruction of justice remain in place.

In voiding the convictions, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled that the judge in the 2012 trial that convicted Mr. Mullet and 15 followers had given the jury an overly expansive definition of a hate crime. (Seven followers have completed their prison terms.)

At the urging of federal prosecutors, who were pressing for an unusual application of the 2009 federal hate-crimes law, the judge told the jury that the religion of the victims must be only one “significant factor” among others in motivating the assaults. But the appeals panel ruled that the judge should have told jurors that, for the attacks to be a hate crime, the religion of the victim must be the predominant motivating factor, and said the evidence did not support that conclusion.

“When all is said and done, considerable evidence supported the defendants’ theory that interpersonal and intrafamily disagreements, not the victims’ religious beliefs, sparked the attacks,” the appeals court ruled...

...“We’re very pleased with the ruling,” said Wendi L. Overmyer, a federal public defender from Akron who argued the appeal.

While “it only addresses one of many issues we raised,” she said, the rejection of the jury instructions was an important step. “Now, all the defendants will be given a chance to have the charges considered under the correct standard of law.”

Defense lawyers had sought a more sweeping repudiation of the government’s decision to invoke the federal hate-crimes statute, with its stringent penalties, in a dispute among feuding members of the same religion. But the circuit judges confined their decision to the jury instructions and what they called a lack of evidence that religion was the primary motivating factor.

One member of the three-judge panel dissented, arguing that the convictions should stand and that Mr. Mullet in particular had acted “because of the victims’ religious beliefs.”

The United States attorney in Cleveland, Steven M. Dettelbach, said in a statement that federal prosecutors were “reviewing the opinion and considering our options.”

If they decide to pursue a new trial, the defendants could apply to be released on bond, said Edward G. Bryan, a federal public defender in Cleveland who represents Mr. Mullet.

“I hope this decision today takes us one step closer to returning Mr. Mullet to his home and community,” Mr. Bryan said, “but we’re not out of the woods.”

Mr. Bryan said he had spoken by phone with Wilma Mullet, one of Mr. Mullet’s daughters, who remains in Bergholz and was not involved in the assaults. “She was happy but cautious,” he said, and promised to spread the word of Wednesday’s court decision among the community.
As reported by Mr. Eckholm, March 2, 2015:

A federal judge on Monday reduced the prison sentences for the leader of a breakaway Amish sect and seven followers who were convicted in a series of beard-cutting attacks on rival Amish in 2011.

But the judge, Dan Aaron Polster of Federal District Court in Cleveland, rejected the call by defense lawyers for the leader, Samuel Mullet Sr., and other defendants to be freed immediately, with their sentences reduced to the more than three years they have already served.

Monday’s resentencing became necessary after a federal appeals court voided the men’s convictions on the most serious charges, of violating federal hate crime laws, ruling that the jury had been given an overly broad definition of a religious hate crime.

Defense lawyers argued that the men had already more than paid the price for their remaining convictions, for obstructing justice. But federal prosecutors argued that the sentences should not be reduced because the defendants committed violent and premeditated attacks that terrorized the Amish of eastern Ohio.

Judge Polster, who gave out the sentences in 2013, seemed largely to agree with the prosecutors on Monday, reiterating that the attacks were intended to inflict religious humiliation.

Mr. Mullet’s sentence was scaled back to 10 years and 9 months, from 15 years. The seven-year sentences given to four other men were reduced to five years, while three other followers saw sentences cut to three years, seven months from five years.

Six women and two men were sentenced to one or two years each and have already been released.

Steven M. Dettelbach, the United States attorney in Cleveland, said, “We’re gratified that there are significant terms of incarceration for what we feel was repeated and violent conduct.”

But Mr. Mullet’s defense lawyers said the new sentences, particularly that for Mr. Mullet, who is 69, were clearly excessive and vowed to appeal...

...Whenever Mr. Mullet is freed he will return to a community “forever changed,” as his defense lawyers put it. In November his wife of 49 years, Martha Mullet, died from cardiac arrest. Mr. Mullet was not permitted to attend her funeral.

One of Mr. Mullet’s daughters, Linda Schrock, took her younger children and left the close-knit settlement after finishing her two-year prison term. Several young men also left, in part because of a shortage of unrelated young women to marry.

As to whether the Amish are actually Christians, I recommend the radio broadcasts of The Berean Call, with Tom McMahon interviewing Joe Keim: Part 1 (September 16, 2016); Part 2 (September 23, 2016).

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