While prosecutors have received 14 letters from Amish people asking that renegade bishop Sam Mullet be sentenced to a lengthy prison term today, the defense has submitted 12 letters of its own from Mr. Mullet's friends and family asking for leniency, saying he is a gentle man of God who is being unjustly punished.
Mr. Mullet and 15 followers will be sentenced this morning in U.S. District Court in Cleveland for their roles in a series of five beard- and hair-cutting attacks on other Amish across Ohio in 2011. Mr. Mullet was convicted under the federal hate crimes statute in the attacks, which were intended to degrade other Amish.
The Justice Department has asked U.S. District Judge Dan Polster to impose a life sentence on Mr. Mullet, described at trial as a cult-like leader who orchestrated the beard-cuttings against those who had opposed him and who controlled everyone in the community of Bergholz, outside Steubenville, with an iron hand.
But Mr. Mullet's supporters say he is nothing like the man the prosecution witnesses presented.
"Sam does not try and rule by force but by open discussion with his men and women talking with his people and trying to be a good Christian," wrote Amos Fowler, a gas company representative who set up an oil and gas lease with Mr. Mullet that has generated millions for the Mullet clan.
"He really wants to be left alone and let his people grow and advise them as a Christian."
Mr. Fowler said Mr. Mullet had been approached by several gas companies to lease his farm but chose not to because he did not want to "ruin his boys because of the amount of money he would get for his 800 acres. Sam was very concerned about the money changing the work ethic of his sons and the Christian values."
He said Mr. Mullet decided to sign a lease only after his sons were arrested by the FBI in the beard-cutting attacks.
Mr. Fowler said he spoke with Mr. Mullet after the arrests and said the church leader denied he was involved.
"Never once did Sam ever brag, smile or act glad it had taken place," he wrote. "He was always very remorseful and said he was not involved in the cutting beards and hair. He did say it was a church matter and the families tried to talk to the bishops and their parents several times."
Other supporters wrote similar letters of endorsement, stating Mr. Mullet had helped many people in the Amish community both spiritually and financially.
One man, Allen Miller, said Mr. Mullet gave him $30,000 from his personal line of credit to catch up on his mortgage when he was out of work.
"He has done way too much for me to turn by back on him," he wrote. "He was the dad I didn't have when I needed one."
A daughter-in-law, Martha Mullet, also wrote he was a father figure who offered her moral support that she could not get from her own father.
"He was never too busy to be a listening ear when life was hard or I needed advice with our own children," she wrote. "He filled a big empty void in my life, as my own father never had a good word for me."
Several letter-writers said Mr. Mullet, the son of an Amish bishop in Mesopotamia, Ohio, left that community for Bergholz after his father died because he felt the strict Amish way of life he knew growing up was eroding. They said he valued the old ways and wanted to raise his family in that devout tradition.
The sentencing for all 16 defendants is scheduled to start at 9 this morning and likely will take all day. The court has set aside extra space for the media and for an overflow crowd expected to attend.
Torsten Ove: email@example.com or 412-263-1510. First Published February 8, 2013 5:00 AM