CLEVELAND -- The leader of a breakaway Amish community in which 16 people were convicted in hair- and beard-cutting attacks was sentenced today to 15 years in prison.
"Sadly, I consider you a danger to the community because of the control that you possess over others," U.S. District Judge Dan Polster told Samuel Mullet Sr., 67.
Mullet was convicted under a federal hate crimes law. He spoke in court today for the first time since he was charged.
"My goal in life has always been to help the underdog," he said. "That's been my goal all my life and now I get pushed up to where I'm at. If somebody needs to be punished for this and I'm a cult leader, then I want to take the punishment for everybody."
He didn't get his wish.
Judge Polster also sentenced nine other men and six women -- including Mullet's sons, nieces and nephews -- for their roles in the 2011 attacks on Amish across Ohio who disagreed with Mullet's leadership.
Sentences for the others ranged from one year and one day for those deemed least culpable to seven years for those who played the largest roles. All will face two years of supervised release after their incarceration.
Some of the sentences will be deferred so that at least one person in a family would be able to care for children.
"This is not a typical case, and everybody recognizes that," Judge Polster said. "Anyone who says this is just a hair- and beard-cutting case wasn't paying attention. These victims were traumatized."
He told the defendants they benefitted from the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because their religion allowed them to be excused from some duties -- such as jury duty in many cases or the draft.
"So each of you has received the benefit of the First Amendment and yet you deprived those benefits to other Amish citizens and through force and violence you tried to ram your religious beliefs down their throats," Judge Polster said.
Each of the defendants, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, sat around a crowded table with defense attorneys while an entourage of family members and reporters looked on from the crowded gallery.
A half-hour before the sentencing was scheduled to begin, men in traditional Amish clothing stood outside the courtroom entrance while women in traditional dresses sat in a line on the benches in the hallway.
Judge Polster said he considered each of the defendants' convictions and that the kidnapping allegations and the presence of a dangerous weapon in some of the attacks would affect the sentences.
Mullet was convicted under a federal hate-crimes law because investigators said the attacks were intended to degrade fellow Amish people.
Prosecutors have described Mullet as a cult-like leader who was not physically involved in the attacks but knew of and approved of them, sometimes helping to conceal or destroy evidence.
The U.S. Justice Department asked Judge Polster to give Mullet a life sentence, saying his power over the community of Bergholz, outside Steubenville, "was -- and is -- absolute" and that his entourage of followers likely wouldn't have done the beard- and hair-cuttings were it not for Mullet.
"Incarceration of the others had no effect," Assistant U.S. Attorney Bridget Brennan said. "It was when Sam Mullet was arrested that those kidnappings stopped."
Prosecutors said Mullet ran the community tightly -- demanding that married women have sex with him as a form of marital counseling, sorting through and sometimes censoring his followers' mail and holding some in a chicken coop as a form of punishment.
Ms. Brennan said, "The evidence shows that but for Samuel Mullet Sr., none of the events and none of the crimes ... would have taken place. He kept vigil and waited for each attack to occur. Each and every time through his act of not punishing people he endorsed and ratified those attacks."
Assistant U.S. public defender Ed Bryan argued that the government's characterization of Mullet was inaccurate and he should serve no more than two years in jail.
"We still seem to be talking about two different cases," Mr. Bryan said. "The government seems to be talking about a case that describes this crazy cult-like environment where zombies are doing the bidding of Samuel Mullet. And we're saying what the objective truth is."
He argued that in some of the cases Mullet knew the attackers were visiting their victims but he did not order the attacks.
Mr. Bryan had already argued in court filings that no one suffered serious injuries in the attacks and that the damage was primarily psychological or emotional.
He also challenged the U.S. Justice Department's attempts to apply the federal hate crimes law to this case, saying that the attacks did not have an anti-Amish bias but rather occurred within the Amish community.
The high-profile trial provided a test for the 2009 law that expanded the government's ability to prosecute hate crimes.
"Mullet is a 67-year-old man who has no prior criminal history," Mr. Bryan said. "The harm, however, related by that offense conduct pales in comparison to the harm that the government seeks to impose upon my client with a life sentence."
Liz Navratil: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1438 and on Twitter: @LizNavratil. First Published February 8, 2013 5:15 AM