U.S. fights trial appeal by Amish bishop

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Federal prosecutors say renegade Amish bishop Sam Mullet does not deserve a new trial or an acquittal because an Ohio jury reached a reasonable conclusion when it convicted him of orchestrating beard-cutting attacks on Amish he considered guilty of religious hypocrisy.

Mr. Mullet, 66, was convicted in September of federal hate crimes in the Ohio assaults along with 15 of his followers, all but one of whom are related to him.

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 enclave outside Steubenville.

The Justice Department on Tuesday asked Judge Polster to uphold the convictions of Mr. Mullet and the others, arguing that the weight of the evidence does not support a judicial reversal.

Federal judges can reverse a jury's decision, effectively acting as a "13th juror." But it's very rare and only happens when a verdict plainly contradicts the evidence.

The Justice Department said that's far from the case with Mr. Mullet and his crew.

Mr. Mullet's main argument is his claim 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 an active participant in a crime to be convicted of conspiracy. Many organized crime cases, for example, are built on the idea that the act of one conspirator is the act of all the co-conspirators.

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, they said, he began preaching to his congregation that cutting hair and beards would serve to 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."

Five of the Amish defendants lost another legal round Wednesday when Judge Polster refused to let them out of jail to attend an Amish wedding scheduled for Thursday.

Lester Miller, Eli Miller, Raymond Miller, Lester Mullet and Johnny Mullet all said they should be allowed out temporarily.

The U.S. attorney's office objected, saying the five 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 on Wednesday agreed and said they can't go.

The 16 defendants are set to be sentenced in January.


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


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