Sixteen people charged in beard- and hair-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in Ohio rejected government plea bargain offers of leniency Monday and will go to trial.
The defendants include members of an eastern Ohio breakaway Amish group. Prosecutors said the attacks were hate crimes.
The defendants said they were internal church disciplinary matters not involving anti-Amish bias.
The defendants, led by Sam Mullet Sr., stood up one by one before U.S. District Court Judge Dan Aaron Polster and said they understand the risks of trial, including lengthy prison terms if convicted. […]
The plea bargains detailed in court would have given many of the defendants sentences of two to three years in prison instead of the possibility of 20 years or more. Several might have been eligible for parole.
Mullet and his followers have been charged with hate crimes.
Last October sect leader Samuel Mullet told The Associated Press that he did not order the hair-cutting attacks but that he also did not stop his sons and others from carrying them out. He said the goal of the hair-cutting was to send a message to Amish that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating him and his community.
The hate crimes indictment and an earlier FBI search-warrant affidavit say the beard cutting attacks came about because Mullet was angry that other Amish bishops refused to accept his excommunication of members who had chosen to leave his group.
AP noted that cutting the hair is a highly offensive act to the Amish, who believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry.
A former member of Mullet’s group says Mullet moved with some 120 fellow Amish to Bergholz, Ohio, some 15 years ago.
He has compared the group, sometimes referred to in the media as the Bergholz clan, to the Peoples Temple cult.
The FBI Affidavit also quotes two witnesses, both former members of the group, who state that Samuel Mullet, Sr. controls all aspects of the lives of Bergholz clan members.
The U.S. Justice Department says it plans to introduce evidence at the trial of Amish sect leader Sam Mullet to prove he had total authority over his Ohio community, including disciplining its members with beatings and having sex with other men’s wives to “counsel” them.
Update, August 2, 2012: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette points out that
The typical multi-defendant federal case ends with people admitting their guilt and going to prison; the plea rate in the federal courts is about 95 percent. […]
Many of the defendants, almost all of whom are related to Mr. Mullet, would end up with light sentences of a few years in prison if they chose to plead, and several may have received only a few months or probation.
If they go to trial and lose, the penalties will almost certainly be harsher. Sam Mullet, accused of orchestrating the attacks, could end up behind bars for two decades.
Judge Polster set a deadline of Aug. 13 for all trial materials to be delivered.
He had initially wanted to split the trial in two, considering that keeping track of 16 defendants – nine of whom have the last name of Miller – might be tough on jurors.
But the judge has since decided to try them all at once.
Mr. Mullet has lost every challenge to the prosecution’s case since he was arrested by the FBI last year.
A previous report details the reasons behind the beard- and hair cutting attacks, and also addresses alleged abuses within Samuel Mullet’s so-called Bergholz Clan.
Read the updated indictment