Charges stick to sect leader in Amish beard-cutting case

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A federal judge Tuesday rejected Amish sect leader Sam Mullet's attempt to have some of the government's allegations against him stricken from a hate crimes indictment, saying the descriptions of his influence in his Ohio enclave are necessary for a jury to understand the case.

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster ruled that the language of the indictment, which includes summarizations of Mr. Mullet's sexual and disciplinary practices, will not be altered.

Mr. Mullet and 15 followers, almost all of them his relatives, are awaiting trial in Cleveland on charges related to five beard-cutting attacks against Amish leaders in Ohio, which the Justice Department contends were motivated by a religious dispute over how Mr. Mullet ran his community.

It's the first case brought under the 2009 federal hate crimes law that involves a conflict within the same religion.

Mr. Mullet and his lawyer, Ed Bryan, had argued that the grand jury descriptions of his influence are not part of the 10 criminal counts against him and are an attempt to "smear" his character and prejudice the jury.

The government countered that the jury needs to examine the charges in the greater context of Mr. Mullet's control over his followers, which the FBI says is so complete that he sleeps with other men's wives to "counsel" them on sexual conduct and commands church members to beat others who do not obey him.

In his ruling, Judge Polster noted that Mr. Mullet and Mr. Bryan said Mr. Mullet's role as bishop in his community doesn't matter "one iota" to the government's case.

"To the contrary," the judge wrote, "it does matter."

He said context is critical to understanding the charges, especially considering that Mr. Mullet is accused of orchestrating the attacks but not directly participating in them.

His leadership role, the judge said, connects him to the alleged crimes and shows why his followers would act on his orders.

"Mullet's role in the community, the co-defendants' allegiance to him, the fact that he demands obedience to his authority and his willingness to punish other Amish for insubordination explain his and his co-defendants' actions, helping the jury comprehend how and why members of an otherwise peaceful community would resort to violent conduct," the judge wrote.

Mr. Mullet, 66, is being held in isolation pending trial because the government is concerned about his influence even behind bars.

region

Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510. First Published May 30, 2012 12:00 AM


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