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Judge upholds verdict in Ohio hair-cutting attacks

Judge upholds verdict in Ohio hair-cutting attacks

Philadelphia Post-Gazette/December 8, 2012

Amish sect leader Sam Mullet, convicted on federal hate crimes charges in connection with a series of beard-chopping attacks on other Amish in Ohio, will not be acquitted or get a new trial, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland refused to overturn the convictions of Mr. Mullet and his 15 followers, all but one of whom is related to Mr. Mullet.

Mr. Mullet and his lawyer, Ed Bryan, had argued that Mr. Mullet did not participate in the attacks and that knowledge of them was not enough for the jury to convict him as the ringleader of a conspiracy.

But prosecutors said he orchestrated the assaults, and the judge agreed.

"The evidence at trial conclusively established that [Mullet], as bishop of Bergholz, ran his community with an iron fist -- nothing of significance happened without his knowledge and approval. Even if the government proved nothing more than that Samuel Mullet Sr. was told about the attacks in advance by his followers and then said or did nothing to stop or prevent them, or even voice his disapproval, a jury could conclude that he had joined the conspiracy."

Mr. Bryan had also argued that testimony by Mr. Mullet's daughter-in-law, Nancy Mullet, about a sexual relationship she had with him tainted the jury because the allegations did not concern the beard- and hair-cuttings, and the government brought no charges related to sex crimes.

The prosecution introduced that testimony to show Mr. Mullet's control over his community.

Mr. Bryan said that shouldn't have been allowed, but the judge again sided with the Justice Department.

He said the sex testimony was "directly relevant" to counter Mr. Mullet's defense that he didn't have anything to do with the attacks. The judge said the testimony and other evidence of other sexual relationships between Mr. Mullet and married members of his community was tied to the religious motivation of the assaults, because several witnesses testified that Mr. Mullet's family members -- especially his sister, Barbara Miller -- had criticized him for his sexual conduct.

Mrs. Miller and her husband, Marty, had tried for years to persuade their adult children to move away to escape Mr. Mullet's influence. Both were victims of an attack by their adult sons at the direction of Mr. Mullet, according to trial testimony.

Mr. Mullet and Mr. Bryan had also argued for acquittal on the grounds that the judge shouldn't have allowed the government to introduce an Associated Press story based on an interview with Mr. Mullet because they said his statements were taken out of context. The October 2011 story quoted Mr. Mullet saying, "We know what we did and why we did it. We excommunicated some members here because they didn't want to obey the rules of the church."

The government used that story to show that Mr. Mullet was in control and ordered the attacks.

The judge ruled that Mr. Mullet and his lawyer didn't dispute the accuracy of that story during trial, nor did Mr. Mullet take the stand to clarify what he meant, so it's too late now.

Mr. Bryan has indicated that he may appeal the judge's rulings.

Mr. Mullet and his followers are scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 24 in Cleveland. He faces a decade in federal prison.

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