May 4, 2016 / 5:30 PM / 4 years ago

Amish lose appeal of convictions in Ohio beard-cutting attacks

(Reuters) - Fifteen members of an Ohio Amish sect convicted in a spate of beard- and hair-cutting attacks on other adherents to their faith lost a bid on Wednesday to have their convictions thrown out, after a U.S. appeals court ruled they had failed to challenge them in a timely manner.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati also rejected the claim from some defendants that their prison sentences, which ranged from 3-1/2 years to nearly 11 years, were unjustly long.

The case involved an Amish sect in the rural community of Bergholz, southeast of Cleveland.

Federal prosecutors said the bishop, Samuel Mullet, was a “cult leader” who orchestrated five attacks as retaliation for personal and spiritual disagreements with other Amish.

Beards are an essential aspect of religious expression for Amish men, while Amish women do not cut their hair. Several victims testified at the 2012 trial regarding the humiliation they experienced as a result of the assaults.

A jury convicted 16 members of hate crimes, conspiring to conceal evidence and other counts.

The 6th Circuit, however, tossed the hate crime convictions in 2014, prompting U.S. District Judge Aaron Polster to reduce the prison sentences for the eight defendants who were still serving time.

All but one of the 16 defendants subsequently challenged their convictions on the lesser counts, while the eight resentenced defendants also appealed the length of their prison terms.

On Wednesday, a three-judge panel from the 6th Circuit said the defendants could not appeal their convictions on the lesser charges after having failed to do so the first time around.

The panel also said Polster’s sentences were an appropriate exercise of his discretion.

Wendi Overmyer, a lawyer for Mullet, said they were “disappointed” in the ruling and would consider their legal options. Lawyers for the other defendants did not immediately comment on the decision.

(The story corrects day of ruling from Tuesday to Wednesday in first and ninth paragraphs)

Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by David Gregorio

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