Prosecutors seek life sentence in Amish beard-cutting case


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Renegade Amish Bishop Sam Mullet, convicted of federal hate crimes in a series of beard- and hair-cutting attacks on other Amish across Ohio, should go to prison for the rest of his life when he is sentenced Friday, federal prosecutors said today.

But Mr. Mullet's public defender says he should get no more than two years behind bars, arguing that no one was badly injured in the attacks and that a life sentence would be unjust.

Mr. Mullet and 15 of his followers, almost all of them related to him by birth or marriage, are scheduled to be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Cleveland at an all-day hearing expected to be attended by reporters from across the U.S. and some foreign countries.

Mr. Mullet did not directly participate in the attacks on other Amish, but he was convicted under the federal hate crimes statute because of what prosecutors said was his leadership role in the Jefferson County community of Bergholz, outside Steubenville. The government said he knew of the attacks, which were designed to punish and humiliate other Amish, and didn't do anything to stop them. Witnesses for the prosecution said Mr. Mullet was a cult-like leader whose followers, including his sons, did his bidding.

"Plainly stated, Samuel Mullet Sr. should be sentenced to a life term of imprisonment because, but for [him], it is highly unlikely any of his co-defendants would have engaged in violent and obstructive conduct," prosecutors said in a pre-sentence memorandum to U.S. District Judge Dan Polster. "Samuel Mullet Sr.'s control over the Bergholz community was -- and is -- absolute."

Prosecutors also presented 14 letters from members of the Amish community saying they are glad Mr. Mullet has been removed from their world and asking the judge to keep him locked up.

Attorney Ed Bryan, however, said Mr. Mullet should not be sentenced in the same range as notorious federal criminals such as Jared Laughner, who shot Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others; Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph, who killed two people and injured 150 at the 1996 Atlanta games; or Unibomber Ted Kaczynski, who killed three and injured 23.

Mr. Bryan denied that his client ordered the attacks and said no one suffered injuries beyond a few nicks and bruises.

"The purpose of the beard and hair cuttings was a symbolic gesture, which at most caused an emotional or psychological response," he wrote. "But no victim suffered serious physical injury in the incidents."

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


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