Amish sect leader, 3 others to face trial
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- A federal magistrate Wednesday night ordered the leader of a breakaway Amish sect, along with two of his sons and a son-in-law, held for trial on federal hate crimes charges in connection with a series of beard-cutting attacks against other Amish across Ohio.
U.S. Magistrate Judge George Limbert agreed with the Justice Department that Sam Mullet Sr., described as a cult leader by the sheriff in Jefferson County, Ohio, is a danger to other Amish and should not be released on bond.
"It appears to me that Sam Mullet has absolute control over the community," the judge said after a marathon detention hearing for Mr. Mullet, 66, his sons Johnny, 38, and Daniel, 37, and a fourth man, Emanuel Shrock, 43, all of the village of Bergholz, where Sam Mullet is the bishop.
Judge Limbert also agreed with the government that the men are a potential flight risk because of the heavy penalties they face in the federal court system, which he said are far more "draconian" than the sentences they could receive in state court.
All four men, and three others who face a detention hearing on Friday, face up to life in prison.
The FBI said the men forcibly cut the beards from other Amish men in a series of attacks in four Ohio counties. Assistant U.S. Attorney Bridget Brennan said the motive was "religiously motivated" revenge against Amish bishops who had reversed Sam Mullet's order to ex-communicate eight families from the Bergholz community for defying his orders.
She said Sam Mullet ordered the attacks and had complete control over all that happened at Bergholz, including disciplining men by locking them in a chicken coop and having sexual relations with women in order to "cleanse" them. When the FBI raided the compound last week, they said they found Mr. Mullet in his bedroom with the wife of one of the other defendants, Eli Miller, who was in another building on the compound.
Ms. Brennan said Sam Mullet orchestrated everything that happened in Bergholz and admitted in media interviews that the dispute between his sect and other Amish groups was "all about religion."
As such, she said, the beard-cuttings constitute hate crimes under federal law.
Lawyers for the accused argued otherwise, saying the attacks are at best state crimes and should be prosecuted in the state court system.
They also argued that the men should not be detained pending trial because they are not a threat to anyone, nor will they run away.
Federal Public Defender Ed Bryan, representing Sam Mullet, said the government's case against his client is built on "innuendo and speculation" and accused Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla, who has long battled Sam Mullet in court proceedings, of scare tactics.
The sheriff testified that he has received numerous calls from Amish outside of Ohio who are afraid that Sam Mullet or his followers will come after them next if they are released.
"The sheriff has tried to scare the community into thinking that this man is some kind of Jim Jones, that he's going to go off and kill everyone," said Mr. Bryan.
The sheriff and the FBI said the genesis of the attacks is a dispute that began about six years ago, when eight families moved away from Bergholz because they didn't like how Mr. Mullet was running the church and the community, particularly in regards to his control over sexual practices.
As a result, Mr. Mullet ex-communicated those families, according to the FBI. Other Amish bishops then questioned whether that action was consistent with Amish beliefs and the Bible.
In 2005 or 2006, some 300 church leaders from New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio met in Ulysses, Pa., to discuss Sam Mullet and his clan. Seven bishops selected to examine his leadership determined that the ex-communication would not be recognized because they said Mr. Mullet had acted out of revenge to punish the families for leaving his fold.
The families were allowed to relocate to other Ohio counties.
The beard-cuttings, according to the FBI, were in retaliation for the bishops effectively overturning Mr. Mullet's decision to ex-communicate the eight families.
An attack on Oct. 4, the FBI said, was a direct assault on one of the bishops on the committee that had made that decision.
First Published December 1, 2011 12:00 am