Amish jailed in beard-cutting attacks win lower sentences

Cleveland — A judge reduced the prison sentences Monday for the leader of a breakaway Amish group and seven followers after their hate-crime convictions were thrown out in their hair- and beard-chopping attacks against fellow members of the faith.

The Ohio group's leader, Samuel Mullet Sr., saw his 15-year term reduced to 10 years, nine months. His followers got up to two years taken off their sentences and will serve 3 1/2 or five years.

Sixteen men and women in all were convicted in a string of attacks on seven fellow Amish in 2011. Most of the victims were awakened in the middle of the night and restrained while their hair — an important symbol of their faith — was cut.

A sheriff testified at trial that one bishop's hair was unevenly chopped to the scalp, leaving it bloody. Another victim said four or five men dragged him out of his house by his chest-length beard and chopped it to within 1 1/2 inches of his chin.

An appeals court dismissed hate-crime convictions against the 16 last year, prompting Judge Dan Aaron Polster to resentence them on the remaining charges, principally conspiracy to obstruct justice. Eight defendants have already completed their sentences.

In its ruling, the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said the judge gave improper jury instructions on whether the attacks were motivated by the victims' religion.

Prosecutors argued the original sentences should remain intact.

Polster on Monday made it clear that he remains convinced that the attacks were "substantially motivated by the victims' religion." He said the defendants inflicted trauma on the victims and trampled on their First Amendment right of religious freedom.

"The remaining eight defendants still warrant substantial sentences," Polster said.

Mullet did not participate in any of the attacks, but assistant U.S. attorney Bridget Brennan said Monday that Mullet exerted tight control as bishop and leader of the community and encouraged the attacks. She said each one began and ended at Mullet's home.

"These were orchestrated, terrorizing attacks," Brennan said.

Edward Bryan, one of Mullet's attorneys, argued that it would be an "irrational fear" to think his client would commit another crime.

Bryan tried to evoke sympathy for Mullet by pointing out that his wife of nearly 40 years died in November and that some members of his community in Bergholz near the panhandle of West Virginia have left the group, including a co-defendant whose husband was one of those resentenced Monday.

"No one is trying to minimize what happened," Bryan said. "It was wrong. My client knows that."