CLEVELAND – The ringleader in hair- and beard-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in Ohio was sentenced Friday to 15 years in prison and 15 family members received sentences of one year to seven years.
“The victims were terrorized and traumatized,” U.S. District Court Judge Dan Aaron Polster said in sentencing leader Sam Mullet Sr., 67.
The judge said the defendants had violated the constitutional rights protecting religious practice that had benefited them as Amish – such as an exemption from jury service and allowing Amish children to leave school at age 14.
“Each of you has received the benefits of that First Amendment,” Polster said.
The judge said the defendants have two weeks to file appeals of their sentences or convictions. Defense attorneys have indicated such appeals are likely.
Before his sentencing, Mullet told the judge that he had been accused of running a cult, which he has denied. Mullet, his ankles in chains and a white beard down to mid-chest, said if his community is seen as a cult, “then I’m going to take the punishment for everybody.”
With relatives of victims and his family sitting on opposite sides of the public gallery, Mullet said he has lived his life trying to help others.
“That’s been my goal all my life,” Mullet said to a hushed courtroom, with his fellow defendants and their attorneys sitting at four defense tables and filling the jury box.
“I’m not going to be here much longer,” said Mullet, who didn’t elaborate on any health issues.
The government asked for a life sentence for Mullet. The defense asked for two years or less.
The 10 men and six women were convicted last year in five attacks in Amish communities in 2011. The government said the attacks were retaliation against Amish who had defied or denounced Mullet’s authoritarian style.
Amish believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards once they marry. Cutting it would be offensive to Amish.