Sixteen men and women affiliated with an Amish breakaway group were convicted Thursday of hate crimes, including forcibly cutting off fellow sect members' beards and hair in a religious dispute that offered a rare glimpse into the closed and usually self-regulating community.
Prosecutors claims that Samuel Mullet, Sr. along with 15 followers terrorized this religious settlement in Ohio last year.
When they were arrested, authorities said the attacks frightened Amish communities in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana. Jefferson County, Ohio, Sheriff Fred Abdalla said, "We've received hundreds and hundreds of calls [from] people living in fear. They're buying mace, some are sitting with shotguns, getting locks on their doors." There were serious allegations of abuse beyond the forcible hair cuts, such sordid sexual relations.
During the trial, prosecutors portrayed Mullet as a man who thought he was above the law and who punished those he thought challenged his authority by chopping off their hair, which carries spiritual significance for the Amish. Mullet was not accused of cutting off the hair himself, but prosecutors say he encouraged his sons and others to carry out his plans. They say he also mocked the victims in jailhouse phone calls.
Defense attorneys never denied that the attacks happened, but they argue that calling them hate crimes was overreaching. The charges against Mullet and the others included conspiracy, evidence tampering and obstruction of justice.
The defendants in the hair and beard cutting face prison terms of ten years or more.