Feds seek life sentence in Ohio Amish attacks

Leader Mullet orchestrated beard-cuttings

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Federal prosecutors Tuesday urged a judge to send renegade Amish bishop Sam Mullet to prison for the rest of his life at sentencing Friday for orchestrating a series of beard-cutting attacks on Amish who disagreed with his leadership.

But Mr. Mullet's lawyer says his client should get no more than two years behind bars, arguing that no one was badly hurt in the attacks and that a life sentence is unjust.

Mr. Mullet, 67, and 15 of his followers, all but one of them related to him by birth or marriage, will be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Cleveland.

The all-day hearing is expected to draw journalists from across the country and even from some foreign nations, enticed by the spectacle of violence and scandal in the seemingly placid Amish world.

Mr. Mullet did not directly participate in the attacks that roiled Ohio Amish country in 2011, but he was convicted under the federal hate crimes statute because of what prosecutors said was his all-powerful control over the Jefferson County community of Bergholz outside Steubenville.

The government said he knew of and approved of the attacks, designed to degrade other Amish, and didn't do anything to stop them.

Witnesses for the prosecution said Mr. Mullet was a cultlike leader whose followers -- including his sons, nieces and nephews -- 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 Aaron Polster. "Samuel Mullet Sr.'s control over the Bergholz community was -- and is -- absolute."

To drive home that point, they said, he read all incoming and outgoing mail at Bergholz, mandated punishments such as confinement in chicken coops and had sex with married women as part of what he called marriage "counseling." At one point, prosecutors said, Mr. Mullet even ordered his wife, Martha, to retrieve a woman who had been reluctant to come to his house for sex.

Prosecutors also presented 14 letters from members of Amish communities in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, thanking the FBI for investigating the Mullet clan and asking that he stay locked up permanently.

Assistant U.S. Public Defender Ed Bryan countered that Mr. Mullet does not deserve the same sentence as notorious federal criminals such as Jared Loughner, 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 Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, who killed three and injured 23.

While denying that his client ordered any attacks, Mr. Bryan also downplayed the violence, saying 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."

He also raised an issue that has been in contention since the start of the case, arguing that the Justice Department improperly applied the federal hate crimes law in bringing the indictment.

The trial was a test case of sorts for the 2009 law that expanded government power to prosecute hate crimes.

As he and other lawyers involved in the trial have long maintained, Mr. Bryan said the beard-cuttings were not hate crimes because they did not involve an anti-Amish bias but rather a dispute within a religion.

nation - lifestyle

Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510. First Published February 6, 2013 5:00 AM


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