Judge denies new trial in Ohio Amish hair attacks
TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) – A federal judge on Thursday denied a request for a new trial made by the leader of an Amish group and some of his followers convicted in hair-cutting attacks on members of their own faith.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster also declined to overturn the convictions of Samuel Mullet Sr. and his followers who joined his request, most of those who were convicted.
Sixteen Amish men and women were convicted in September of hate crimes for a series of hair- and beard-cutting attacks that stemmed from a religious dispute that terrorized the normally peaceful religious settlement in eastern Ohio.
The five attacks just over a year ago were an attempt to shame mainstream members who Mullet believed were straying from their beliefs, prosecutors said.
Mullet’s defense attorney, Ed Bryan, argued that the prosecution presented no evidence that Mullet participated in the attacks and that merely knowing about the plans should not be enough for a conviction.
The judge rejected that argument, saying it was clear Mullet had a role in what happened even though he wasn’t accused of cutting anyone’s hair.
“There was substantial evidence that Samuel Mullet Sr. did more than tacitly approve of the attacks,” Polster wrote.
Bryan also argued that allowing Mullet’s daughter-in-law to testify about her sexual relationship with Mullet tainted the jury and should not have been permitted because it did not have anything to do with the hair cuttings.
Bryan said he was disappointed by the judge’s decision Thursday and that he plans to appeal.
“I think we made a pretty compelling case,” he said. “I still believe evidence presented at trial was insufficient.”
During the trial, witnesses described how sons pulled their father out of bed and chopped off his beard in the moonlight and how women surrounded their mother-in-law and cut off two feet of her hair, taking it down to the scalp in some places.
Prosecutors said the attackers targeted hair because it carries spiritual significance in the Amish faith.
Mullet’s request for acquittal or a new trial also said the judge should not have allowed an Associated Press article from an October 2011 interview of Mullet to be used as evidence and that prosecutors took Mullet’s statements in the article out of context, the judge wrote.
The judge responded by saying that Mullet never disputed the accuracy of the article and that Mullet could have testified to clarify what he meant.
“Of course, he was entitled to exercise his constitutional right not to testify, but he cannot now complain his comments were misconstrued,” Polster wrote.
During the interview at Mullet’s home before he was arrested, Mullet said he didn’t order the hair-cutting but didn’t stop anyone from carrying it out. “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,” he said.
Mullet’s defense argued there was newly discovered evidence, including notes and a recording from the AP interview, that merit a new trial. But the judge wrote that the evidence was not new and could have been sought before the trial began.
“No one has seen the notes or the recording, and Mullet Sr. has not asserted that the notes or recording reflect any material difference from the evidence,” Polster said.
The defendants face prison terms of 10 years or more at their Jan. 24 sentencing.
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