Amish beard cutters going to prison

9:14 PM, Feb 8, 2013   |    comments
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CLEVELAND (WKYC) -- It's prison for all 16 members of an Amish breakaway group convicted of conspiracy.

Samuel Mullet, the ringleader of the hair- and beard-cutting attacks, will serve 15 years in federal prison.

Judge Daniel Polster said it best -- "If you think this trial was about hair and beard cutting, you weren't paying attention."

It was always about religious freedom, something the jury and Polster take seriously. He saved the harshest punishment for the community's bishop and unequaled ring leader, 67-year-old Sam Mullet to prison for what could amount to the rest of his life.

Even as he learned his fate, Samuel Mullet claimed no responsibility for the hair- and beard-cutting attacks that terrorized other Amish.

He spoke to the court: "I am being blamed for being a cult leader. I am not going to be here much longer. My goal in life is to help the younger people. If somebody needs to be punished, I'll take the punishment for everyone. Let the mothers and fathers go home to their children."

But U.S. District Judge Daniel Polster didn't agree, sentencing the other 15 from one to seven years behind bars.

"They were more than symbolic crimes, they were physically violent, hate filled acts, designed to terrorize our community and designed to undermine our Constitutional protections," said U.S. Attorney Steve Dettlebach.

Polster and the jury agreed it was the freedom of religion -- the same right that allows Mullet and his followers to run their own schools, avoid serving in the military and on a jury -- that was violated.

"While they hold dear the right to pray as they please, evidentially have no respect at all for our nation's promise that everyone. Every single person can pray as they wish," Polster said.

Mullet will serve 15 years, his right-hand men, 7 years. Meanwhile, the Amish will move on.

"I know that the rather significant Amish community we have in my county, Holmes County, will sleep better tonight knowing that Sam Mullet's going to be in prison," said Steve Knowling, the prosecutor in Holmes County who started the original state proceedings.

Seven of the men who are currently incarcerated will stay that way. The defendants out on bond will have until April to report to their assigned prisons, except Elizabeth Miller.

Elizabeth's one year and one day sentence will be deferred until two of the other women return from prison, for the sake of the children.

Appeals of course are likely to be filed. Knowling says it seems in his community, this trial has forever changed the relationship between the law and the Amish.


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