Amish religious leader convicted of beard-cutting attacks seeks new trial

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Renegade Amish bishop Sam Mullet, convicted of hate crimes in a series of beard-cutting attacks on other Amish in Ohio, wants a new trial because he says the government didn't prove he ordered the assaults.

In court papers filed in Cleveland, Mr. Mullet's lawyer argued the beard-choppings resulted from disputes between the victims and their own families, not from Mr. Mullet's commands as religious leader of Bergholz, outside Steubenville.

Ed Bryan, a federal public defender, asked U.S. District Judge Dan Polster to throw out the conviction, or at least grant a new trial, because he said the evidence does not support the government's contention that Mr. Mullet was a cult-like leader whose subjects did his bidding.

Mr. Bryan said the government's theory of the case is flawed in that prosecutors told the jury that they didn't have to prove Mr. Mullet ordered the attacks, only that he didn't stop them.

"Nothing in the criminal law requires a leader, including a religious leader, to stop the actions of others over whom he may have control to avoid conspiratorial liability from their criminal acts," Mr. Bryan wrote in a motion for acquittal and a new trial.

He also said the government improperly introduced media reports quoting Mr. Mullet, as well as testimony about Mr. Mullet's sexual practices.

In September, a federal jury convicted Mr. Mullet, 66, of hate crimes and related offenses in ordering 15 of his followers to forcibly shear the beards and hair of perceived enemies in other Amish communities in 2011.

All 15 followers, including several of Mr. Mullet's sons, were convicted for their roles in the violent attacks, which shook the placid Amish world and generated headlines around the globe.

Mr. Bryan said each of the five attacks described by the FBI was motivated by personal animus.

One assault -- an attack on Marty Miller and his wife, Barbara, carried out by their children and in-laws -- was the result of an earlier confrontation with the children, he said.

Mr. Miller had complained about how his daughter was dressed and the fact that his son had allowed his own beard to be cut in 2009 and 2010. In the Amish community, the beard is a sacred symbol of closeness to God and its voluntary removal is a sign of straying from the faith.

Mr. Bryan said no evidence "indicated the Miller children and in-laws did what they did because of something Samuel Mullet said or did."

In addition, he said the government should not have been allowed to introduce testimony that Mr. Mullet slept with other men's wives in order to "counsel" them. Prosecutors used that evidence to show the magnitude of Mr. Mullet's control over his community, but Mr. Bryan said the testimony did nothing to bolster the idea that he ordered the beard-cuttings.

Mr. Mullet and his followers are scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 22.

region

Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510.


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