CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Amish victims of beard and hair-cutting attacks were hypocrites who only pretended to live an Amish life, the daughter of the sect leader facing hate crime charges testified on Monday.
Barbara Yoder, who was a reluctant prosecution witness, testified that she had heard accounts of the attacks from members of the sect led by her father, Samuel Mullet Sr., after the fact and had overheard some planning for the attacks.
Mullet and 15 of his followers face federal hate crimes charges for attacks on nine Amish men and women in southeastern Ohio last fall in which the victims’ beards and hair were cut.
Prosecutors contend the attacks were religiously motivated. Amish women and married Amish men believe not cutting the hair or beards are a symbol of living a righteous life.
Mullet was not present for the attacks, but prosecutors believe he encouraged and even orchestrated them as retaliation for disputes he was having with other Amish religious leaders.
The other religious leaders accepted into their communities families who had been shunned or ex-communicated by Mullet. Under normal circumstances a person shunned by one Amish community would be shunned by all.
Yoder, who responded tersely to prosecutors’ questions, said she believed the attacks would eventually help the victims to receive salvation.
Yoder also described some of the discipline Mullet’s followers voluntarily endured, including sleeping for weeks in a chicken coop or cutting their own hair and beards.
Under cross-examination, Yoder testified that Mullet knew of the attacks but did not order them. However, when prosecutors asked Yoder if Mullet had ever told anyone not to carry out the attacks, she said, “No.”
The defendants contend the attacks were motivated by family feuds and child custody disputes within the Amish community and did not rise to the level of hate crimes.
Prosecutors have sought to show the attacks were motivated by religious disputes, a key element in proving a hate crime. An expert on the Amish testified Monday about the differences of opinion between Mullet and other Amish religious leaders.
Donald Kraybill, an Elizabethtown College professor and an expert on Amish life, told jurors, that the Amish world is divided on the tenets of ex-communication.
He told jurors that 300 Amish religious leaders met in 2006 to make a one-time exception to disallow the excommunications by Mullet, which normally would apply to all groups.
“It was an earthquake in the Amish community,” Kraybill explained. “The Amish believe that decisions made in the church are ratified in heaven.”
Prosecutors are expected to call two more witnesses on Tuesday when the trial continues in Cleveland federal court. After that, defense attorneys are expected to argue for dismissal of the charges.
Editing by David Bailey and Lisa Shumaker