Amish Man Pleads Guilty in Sex Case

The Associated Press/September 18, 2001

Cambridge, Ohio -- In a rare case, an Amish man charged with raping two girls pleaded guilty to sexual battery and may spend five years in a sex offender treatment center.

Norman Byler, 69, of Birmingham initially was charged with 11 counts of rape and gross sexual imposition involving two girls in his extended family. They were 3 and 5 at the time.

He had been scheduled to go on trial this week but instead pleaded guilty Monday to lesser charges, five counts of sexual battery.

The case marked a rare example of Amish crimes being prosecuted in secular courts, county Prosecutor Keith Plummer said.

"Part of the difficulty of the case was that the Amish community felt like they should be able to deal with that within their church," Plummer said.

The assaults happened between June and October 1999, according to court records. Sheriff's detectives had been alerted by non-Amish neighbors who said they saw one of the children bleeding.

An Amish bishop had ordered Byler shunned, and Byler's children had argued that further prosecution by secular authorities would do no good.

"Typically within their faith, if someone commits something that they deem morally wrong, they issue a punishment, then forgive the person after the punishment is served," Plummer said.

Byler wrote in a note to a judge last year that he repented for his actions. He said he needed to be treated for a "nervous condition."

Byler was ruled incompetent to stand trial last year and confined to a psychiatric hospital, but a Guernsey County Common Pleas judge in July ruled him competent and ordered the trial to go forward.

Byler faces sentencing Oct. 30. The prosecutor has recommended that Byler be incarcerated for five years in a sex offender program in Mansfield.

Byler's attorney did not immediately return a call requesting comment on the case.

Byler's daughter, Katie Yoder, and son-in-law, Tobie Yoder, told The Columbus Dispatch after he was charged last year that they confronted Byler when the girls began to talk about having sexual contact with him.

The family had sought mental health treatment for him, and Tobie Yoder said he was responding to medication.

"We don't want him to be in jail," Yoder said. "It won't do him any good."

Yoder said that the Amish community was handling the situation in its way and that he regretted that neighbors called authorities.

Guernsey County is a rural county in southeast Ohio with a population of about 41,000. It has a strong Amish influence, but the Amish population is not as dominant as it is in several Ohio counties to the north. The Christian sect emphasizes social separation from the surrounding "English" community and generally avoids electricity, automobiles and telephones.

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