Prosecutors urge federal judge to uphold conviction in Amish beard-cutting attacks

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Federal prosecutors urged a federal judge this week to reject Amish bishop Sam Mullet's attempts to win a new trial following his conviction on hate-crime charges for orchestrating a series of beard- and hair-cutting attacks on other Amish in Ohio.

Mr. Mullet was convicted in the assaults in September along with 15 of his followers, all but one of whom are related to him. The attacks were part of a religious dispute between more conventional Amish and Mr. Mullet's breakaway sect.

He and his lawyer, Ed Bryan, earlier this month asked U.S. District Judge Dan Polster to throw out the jury conviction, or at least grant a new trial, because they said the evidence does not support the government's contention that Mr. Mullet was a powerful leader whose minions did his bidding.

Mr. Bryan said the assaults were the result of disputes between the victims and their own families, not Mr. Mullet's commands as leader of the Bergholz community outside Steubenville.

The Justice Department yesterday asked Judge Polster to uphold the convictions, arguing that the weight of the evidence clearly does not support a reversal by the judge. Federal judges rarely reverse a jury's decision and only do so when the verdict plainly contradicts the evidence.

Mr. Mullet's main argument is that he didn't order the attacks and that he should not have been convicted because he didn't participate in them.

But the government said that under the law, a defendant doesn't have to be present at the crime scene to be convicted of conspiracy.

Prosecutors said the jury properly found the existence of a conspiracy among Mr. Mullet and his followers, including his sons, to "cleanse" Amish victims of their religious "hypocrisy" and to obstruct the FBI investigation of the attacks.

Prosecutors cited numerous examples that Mr. Mullet was the controlling influence behind the attacks.

As early as 2008, for example, they said he began preaching to his congregation that cutting hair and beards would expose the hypocrisy of the victims to others in the community.

In the weeks leading up to the attacks, they said, he continued to preach about "cleansing" other Amish.

Prosecutors also pointed to recorded phone calls from jail in which Mr. Mullet and his sons can be heard laughing about one of the attacks. Earlier in that same call, Mr. Mullet is heard saying: "Ray and the men are ready to go again, should I say."

Four of the convicted defendants -- Lester Miller, Eli Miller, Raymond Miller, and Lester Mullet -- also filed motions this week to be released so they can attend a wedding.

The U.S. attorney's office objected, saying the four are a menace.

"Attending this wedding is not as simple as one may think," prosecutors said. "It would mean allowing violent, convicted offenders to return to the very community that conspired with them and plotted additional attacks after some of them had already been arrested."

Judge Polster agreed today and denied their request.

The 16 defendants are scheduled to be sentenced in January.

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Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1520.


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