16 Amish in Ohio reject beard-cutting plea deals
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Sixteen people charged in beard- and hair-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in Ohio rejected government plea bargain offers of leniency Monday and will go to trial.
The defendants include members of an eastern Ohio breakaway Amish group. Prosecutors said the attacks were hate crimes.
The defendants said they were internal church disciplinary matters not involving anti-Amish bias.
The defendants, led by Sam Mullet Sr., stood up one-by-one before U.S. District Court Judge Dan Aaron Polster and said they understand the risks of trial, including lengthy prison terms if convicted.
The judge told one woman she was responding robotically to his questions, and another woman repeatedly wiped away tears with a tissue as questions were asked of each defendant. Most of the other defendants and their family members in court watched without emotion.
The plea bargains detailed in court would have given many of the defendants sentences of two to three years in prison instead of the possibility of 20 years or more. Several might have been eligible for parole.
Prosecutors say a feud over church discipline led to attacks in which the beards and hair of men and hair of women were cut, an act considered deeply offensive in Amish culture. The Amish believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry.
Several members of the group living in Bergholz in eastern Ohio carried out the attacks last year in September, October and November by forcibly cutting the beards and hair of Amish men and women and then taking photos to shame them, authorities have said.
Mullet told The Associated Press in October that he didn't order the hair-cutting but didn't stop his sons and others from carrying it out. He said the goal was to send a message to other Amish that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating Mullet and his community.