CLEVELAND (Reuters) - An Amish sect leader facing federal hate crime charges laughed during a telephone call with his nephew about plans for more beard-cutting attacks on other Amish people, jurors in the Ohio trial heard in a recording played in court on Friday.
As they listened to calls between Samuel Mullet Sr. and his nephew Lester Miller, the jury read an English translation because the pair had spoken in Pennsylvania Dutch, the primary language of the Amish. The jury was told the calls had originated from the Holmes County jail in Ohio.
On the recording, Mullet was heard laughing about members of the community carrying out more attacks and told his nephew to stay strong and to keep his mouth closed after Miller was arrested last October. “They are trying to tear this whole thing apart,” Mullet said, referring to his community.
Mullet and 15 other sect members are accused of planning or carrying out attacks on nine Amish men and women in southeastern Ohio last autumn. The victims’ beards and hair were cut during the attacks.
Assistant U.S. attorney Bridget M. Brennan has told the jury that in the Amish faith, ”the beard and the hair are symbols of Amish righteousness, religious symbols that God is present in their lives.
Witnesses have testified that the attacks were in revenge for a dispute between Mullet and other Amish religious leaders because they had accepted into their communities eight families that Mullet had shunned or ex-communicated.
Prosecutors have said the accused are on trial for terrorizing and injuring their victims, and that they are not on trial for their beliefs.
This week, prosecutors attempted to show through testimony by members of law enforcement and other Amish the fear and distrust that surrounded the community.
Witnesses testified to hearing rumors of cult-like activities and “unbiblical” punishments that included voluntary beard cutting, sleeping in chicken coops, and public paddling. “They were doing stuff that the Bible doesn’t teach us,” Anna Shrock told jurors on Friday. And, she said, Mullet believed that God “was talking to him.”
As the jury was shown pictures taken directly after the attacks, victims testified to having their beards violently grabbed and cut to the skin.
“I was totally froze. I was scared. I didn’t know the next thing that would happen,” David Wengerd told the court on Thursday. He said he could not look in a mirror for months after the attack. “It just drove me batty. I didn’t like to see myself.”
The defense has argued that the attacks were the consequence of family feuds and child custody disagreements between members of the Amish community and that they do not rise to the level of a hate crime.
Testimony could conclude by the end of next week.
Reporting By Kim Palmer; Editing by Mary Wisniewski