The leader of an Amish splinter sect in Ohio and 15 of his followers were convicted of federal hate crimes today for forcibly shaving the beards and hair of breakaway members of the religious community.
Amish bishop Samuel Mullet, 66, faces a minimum of 10 years in prison when he is sentenced, likely late this year.
The case marks the first convictions in Ohio under the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act, enacted in 2009.
The verdict by a jury composed of seven men and five women came after four days of deliberations, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.
Prosecutors convinced the jury that the shearing of the beards and hair of Mullets’ perceived enemies rose above the level of a simple assault to that of a religious-motivated hate crime. Those involved in the attacks and all the victims are members of the Amish faith – traditionally pacifists who usually resolve their disputes internally without law enforcement.
The beards and hair of the victims were cut to disgrace the victims as punishment for “previous and ongoing religious disagreements” with Mullet and his followers in Ohio.
Defense attorneys for the 16 defendants called no witnesses, the Cleveland newspaper reported. In closing arguments, the defense team argued that the beard-cutting didn’t meet the definition of a hate crime, which required a religious motive and bodily injury, including disfigurement, for a conviction.
The defense claimed the beard cuttings, carried out in a series of raids ordered by Mullet, were motivated by love and compassion intended to compel the victims to return to a conservative Amish lifestyle under Mullet.
There were four separate attacks, involving nine male and female victims, between Sept. 6 and Nov. 9 of 2011 in Trumbull, Holmes and Jefferson counties in Ohio, according to details contained in a 21-page superseding indictment, returned last April.
The attackers took photographs during the assaults, and, after the FBI opened an investigation, the disposable camera used was buried at the base of a tree on Mullet’s property, the indictment said. The FBI recovered the camera earlier this year with assistance for a cooperating informant.
In the first attack, nine of the defendants and other participants not indicted hired a driver on Sept. 6 and traveled from Bergholz, Ohio, in Jefferson County to a couple’s residence in Trumbull County. Participants in that attack were Eli M. Miller, Lester Miller, Raymond Miller, Freeman Burkholder, Anna Miller, Lovina Miller, Kathryn Miller, Emma Miller and Elizabeth Miller.
The second attack on a lone male victim on Sept. 24, 2011, was carried out Levi Miller, Eli M. Miller, Emanuel Shrock and others not identified who cut off the victim’s beard and hair, according to federal court documents.
The third incident occurred on Oct. 4 when five men, identified in the indictment as Johnny S. Mullet, Danny S. Mullet, Lester S. Mullet, Levi F. Miller and Eli M. Miller, entered two homes and cut the beards and hair of four victims.
The fourth and final assault occurred on Nov. 9 when a man and a woman traveled to a home near Bergholz where they had their hair forcibly removed by Emanuel and Linda Shrock after telling a sheriff earlier that day that such an attack wouldn’t occur.