BERGHOLZ - Sixteen members of a Jefferson County Amish settlement who were convicted in September of hate crimes against other Amish people will face sentencing in a Cleveland federal court on Jan. 24.
The sentences, which could be 10 years or more for each defendant, will be the final step in putting to rest the case that thrust the usually closeted Amish community into the national limelight - a place the Amish typically avoid.
The case, however, has been anything but typical. The hate crime charges stem from a series of home invasions where the victims' hair and beards were cut off by fellow sect members as the result of a religious dispute. The victims included men and women.
The Amish believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry. Having their beards or hair cut resulted in great shame and despair among the victims.
The defendants are members of a splinter group of Amish led by Samuel Mullet Sr., 66, whose community is located near Bergholz. According to Mullet's court testimony, the hair cuttings were in response to continuous criticism he had received from other Amish religious leaders about him being too strict, including shunning people in his own group.
Defense attorneys argued that the incidents were not hate crimes. Additional witnesses, however, portrayed Mullet as an extremely controlling leader who inflicted punishments not in line with Amish traditions. One woman testified that Mullet coerced women at his settlement into having sex with him. He was not charged with any sex crimes.
The Associated Press coverage of the trial reported that witnesses described how men were pulled out of bed and had their beards chopped off and how a woman was surrounded before 2 feet of her hair was cut off. Some of the victims were nearly scalped, witnesses said.
Mullet maintained that he was simply carrying out the rules of his community, comparing them to the traffic and other laws of the "English" community.
"You have your laws on the road and the town - if somebody doesn't obey them, you punish them. But I'm not allowed to punish the church people?" Mullet said in October.
Mullet's community is made up of about 25 families. Among them are six couples who have been convicted in the case. The couples have nearly 50 children among them. The future of Mullet's community remains uncertain as the defendants face prison time.
Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla, who had run-ins with Mullet and his family, said "Sam Mullet is evil." He added that the beard-cutting attacks put many people in fear and caused great distress among the otherwise peaceful Amish communities in his county.