CLEVELAND (Reuters) - An Ohio Amish sect leader was sentenced on Friday to 15 years in federal prison for his role in leading hair- and beard-cutting attacks on members of other Amish communities in 2011.
Prosecutors had recommended a life sentence for Samuel Mullet Sr., 67, who was convicted of a hate crime in September for orchestrating attacks carried out on six Amish men and two women, though he was not present for any of them. Prosecutors said the attacks were motivated by religious disputes between Mullet and other Amish leaders.
Fifteen of Mullet’s followers in the breakaway Amish sect, from Bergholz, Ohio, who were also convicted of multiple counts of conspiracy and kidnapping, received lesser prison sentences on Friday, ranging from one year to seven years.
The sentences will be staggered to allow the group, which includes many family members, to take care of children.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster compared the defendants’ actions to those of the Spanish Inquisition, saying they “trampled on the Constitution,” though they more than most benefit from the freedom of religion.
“Anyone who said this trial was only about hair and beard cutting wasn’t paying attention,” Polster said.
The judge told Mullet he was a danger to the community because of the control he has over others. “I don’t believe you expressed any remorse for the pain you inflicted,” Polster said.
The Amish are known for their plain dress and shunning of technology. Amish women and married Amish men do not cut their hair or beards, because they consider them symbols of living a religious life.
Victims of the attack testified they were restrained and had their hair forcibly cut using scissors, clippers, shears and battery-operated razors. The followers then brought the beard and head hair back to show Mullet.
“But for Sam Mullet, none of the crimes would have taken place,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Bridget Brennan said in support of the prosecution’s sentencing proposals, adding that Mullet had groomed his followers to avenge wrongs against him. “The crimes only stopped when Sam Mullet was arrested.”
Mullet’s attorney, Edward Bryan, said before the sentence was imposed on the sect leader that the trial was the result of a “misunderstanding of cultures.”
Defense attorneys argued that the attacks stemmed from personal, not religious, disputes. They also submitted letters from family and business acquaintances that spoke of hardships the community has endured without the men during the winter.
Prosecutors submitted 14 handwritten letters from members of the Amish community expressing fear for Bergholz community children and supporting a lengthy or life sentence for Mullet.
Nine of the accused men are currently in prison, while one man and all six women accused have remained free.
Eli Miller, 33; Lester Miller; Johnny Mullet, 39; and Levi Miller, 54, received sentences of seven years each. Daniel Mullet; Lester Mullet, 38; and Emanuel Shrock received sentences of five years each. Raymond Miller and Linda Shrock were sentenced to two years each, while the remaining defendants, Freeman Burkholder, Anna Miller, 33; Lovina Miller; Kathryn Miller, 24; Emma Miller, 38; and Elizabeth Miller each received a year and a day in prison.
Reporting By Kim Palmer; Editing by Mary Wisniewski, David Bailey, Dan Grebler, Greg McCune and Steve Orlofsky