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September 20, 2012

Ohio Amish hair-cutting incidents now a federal hate crimes sentencing matter

As reported in this New York Times article, "Jury Convicts Amish Group of Hate Crimes," a notable religious dispute is now a fascinating federal sentencing matter. Here are the basics:

Samuel Mullet Sr., the domineering leader of a renegade Amish sect, and 15 followers were convicted of federal conspiracy and hate crimes Thursday for orchestrating a series of bizarre beard- and hair-cutting attacks last fall that spread fear through the Amish of eastern Ohio.

The convictions of Mr. Mullet and his followers and family members who carried out the assaults could bring lengthy prison terms. The jury’s verdict vindicated federal prosecutors, who made a risky decision to apply a 2009 federal hate-crimes law to the sect’s violent efforts to humiliate Amish rivals.

Mr. Mullet, 66, founder of a community near Bergholz, Ohio, and 15 followers, including six women, were tried for their roles in five assaults on people that Mr. Mullet had described as enemies. The jury heard three weeks of testimony and deliberated more than four days before reaching a verdict midday Thursday.

Although Mr. Mullet did not directly participate in the attacks, prosecutors labeled him the mastermind of the assaults, in which groups of his followers held down victims and sheared their beards and hair. Among the traditional Amish, men’s long beards and women’s uncut hair are central to religious identity. Prosecutors argued that the attacks were intended to humiliate those who questioned Mr. Mullet’s cultlike methods, like forcing errant followers to live in chicken coops and pressing married women — including his own daughter-in-law — to accept his intimate sexual “counseling.” ...

The high-profile nature of the case, and the stakes for the defendants, were raised when Steven M. Dettelbach, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, stepped in to charge Mr. Mullet and 15 others, including several of his children and other relatives, with federal conspiracy and hate-crime charges that carry potential sentences of 10 years per count.

The defendants did not deny their roles in the attacks, which were carried out with battery-powered clippers, scissors and razor-sharp shears that are designed to trim horse manes. Rather, the case turned on the motives for the attacks and whether it was appropriate to make them into a major federal case under a 2009 hate-crimes law.

To prove the most serious charges, the jurors had to be convinced that the defendants had caused “bodily injury,” which could mean “disfigurement,” and that the attacks on nine of the victims were based mainly on religious differences.

Lawyers for the defense argued that cutting hair was not disfigurement and that the attacks resulted from family and personal differences, including a bitter custody battle involving a daughter of Mr. Mullet’s, as well as disputes over the “true” Amish way. They argued that prosecutors had overreached by labeling the assaults as religiously inspired hate crimes.

I have not yet looked into how the US Sentencing Guidelines might be calculated in this unique case, but I have a feeling that the debates over sentencing could end up as dynamic and as controversial as the debates over making this matter a federal criminal case in the first instance.

September 20, 2012 at 05:43 PM | Permalink


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According to CNN (http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2012/09/20/amish-leader-convicted-of-hate-crimes-in-beard-attacks/), the US attorney's office said the guideline sentence would be about 17.5 years, or 210 months. Assuming that's the midpoint of the guidelines range, it would seem the USAO believes this would be at level 36 (I'm assuming these guys have no criminal history).

Now, there could be any number of mistakes here--the USAO might be calculating incorrectly, or the spokesman might be wrong, or the reporter incorrect, or I messed something up. But I have to say, any guidelines system which would assign an equal sentence to this crime as it would to pleading guilty to second degree murder (level 38, less 2 for acceptance of guilt) not only should never be mandatory, but deserves outright mockery.

Posted by: dsfan | Sep 20, 2012 7:19:24 PM

Why is this a federal case?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 21, 2012 1:00:01 AM

Good question, Bill.

The only response that comes to mind is that there are few things more powerful, terrifying and destructive than zealous federal prosecutors intent on applying novel theories to cases capable of generating career-enhancing headlines.

Standing next to such prosecutors, even mean-spirited, religion-poisoned Amish elders armed with hair clippers look relatively harmless.

Posted by: John K | Sep 21, 2012 9:24:20 AM

"pressing married women — including his own daughter-in-law — to accept his intimate sexual “counseling.”

1-- Is this not more likely an assault then the removal of hair which will grow back?

2-- "Samuel Mullet Sr...hair-cutting attacks...defendants did not deny their roles"
" " "federal conspiracy and hate-crime charges that carry potential sentences of 10 years per count." " "

All this for trying to revive the 80s?

Posted by: Adamakis | Sep 21, 2012 9:33:20 AM

Go ahead and buzz it 'round the ears
I've been growin' that one braid back there for years
I've had it since the first time I saw Queensryche

The front may conform to society
But the back says I have personality

Even if it's really really, even if it's really really bad
Make it short in front and long in back!. . .

But don't you lay a finger on my pony tail
Now fix my kid so he looks just like me,
And then matching crazy pants are all we need

Some may call it child abuse I just call it bonding with you Dad.

Norco Neck Warmer...Norco
Forbidden Hair...Europe


Posted by: Adamakis | Sep 21, 2012 9:35:06 AM

@Bill Otis, exactly what I was thinking. Thanks for putting it forth. :D

Posted by: Dianne Weiss | Sep 21, 2012 12:26:59 PM

More overreaching by federal prosecutors.

Posted by: beth | Sep 21, 2012 4:52:46 PM

I knew some of these guys personally. The leader got up every day to buy lumber at the local store. So, I would think if he was some great cult leader he would be in bed having sex all day, and others doing his work. Also, a lot of this started out because the local sheriff raided the amish school years ago, and this leader sued the Sheriff. Well, this sheriff everyone is scared of, and I have no doubt the local sheriff pushed for it to be on the federal level. The justice system did a good job at spreading proaganda before the prosecution. I never knew sex outside of marriage was illegal and a federal crime. LOL After seeing the sentencing for "hate crimes" I will try to avoid any minority in the future, for fear of being in a dispute with them.

Resident of area where amish lived

Posted by: James | Sep 22, 2012 10:59:21 AM

James --

"Sheriff. Well, this sheriff everyone is scared of, and I have no doubt the local sheriff pushed for it to be on the federal level."

That doesn't mean the feds had to take it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 22, 2012 5:07:33 PM

Wow, I guess they don't have hair cutting classes like they do here in Chicago. Who knew you could get in so much trouble for cutting hair?

Posted by: Anne Lawrence | Nov 15, 2013 12:09:02 PM

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