CLEVELAND (Reuters) - The son of an Amish man who prosecutors say was the victim of a hate crime told a Cleveland jury on Wednesday how his elderly father begged for his beard and hair not to be shaved off as his wife and daughters wept.
“I heard my father say, ‘Don’t shear me, don’t shear me’,” Andy Hershberger told jurors. “I saw hair flying.” Hershberger said he also was grabbed and a small part of his beard and hair was shaved.
Hershberger was one of two witnesses who gave accounts of hair and beard-cutting attacks at the trial of Amish sect leader Samuel Mullet, Sr. and 15 of his followers.
They are charged with attacking nine men and women last fall in southeastern Ohio. Amish women do not cut their hair and the men do not cut their beards after marriage.
In an opening statement on Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bridget M. Brennan explained, ”The beard and the hair are symbols of Amish righteousness, religious symbols that God is present in their lives.
Police have said the motive was revenge because families shunned from Mullet’s community had been accepted by other Amish communities. Defense attorneys have said the attacks were family disputes or inter-religious disagreements on how to live a righteous Amish life.
Barbara Miller, Mullet’s sister and mother of three of the men on trial, gave an emotional account of the night her waist-long hair was cut to her ears by a group of women that included her daughter and daughter-in-laws.
Miller, wearing a long black dress and white bonnet, recounted how her sons held down her husband and shaved his hair and beard. She told the jury that she had wanted to hug one of her sons, but “they were not my boys that night.”
She said she was told by her children that she was going “straight to hell”, and her son Lester called her a “whore” when they found out that she and her husband were leaving the community where her brother was bishop.
Miller said she used to have a good relationship with her brother, but he had become more “Old Testament, and we are more New Testament,” explaining that by Old Testament she meant “more violence, angry, hateful.”
She said her brother had become “angry, angry, very angry, screaming and yelling, and no one could do anything right, and you didn’t know what set him off. He was a dictator.”
Amish women spectators who had come to court to support Miller wept during her testimony.
Hershberger said that five men had gone to his home demanding to speak with his 76-year-old father, a bishop in the Amish community, before grabbing both men to shave their beards and hair.
Hershberger took the stand after agreeing to be truthful in his testimony rather than take the standard oath on the Bible because the Amish do not believe in oath taking.
Reporting By Kim Palmer; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Greg McCune