Leader in Ohio Amish beard-cutting attacks gets 15 years in prison
CLEVELAND — An outlaw Amish bishop who orchestrated a series of beard- and hair-cutting attacks on other Amish will spend 15 years in prison, a federal judge ruled on Friday.
Samuel Mullet Sr., 67, ran his ultraconservative breakaway Amish sect in Bergholz, Ohio, about 60 miles west of Pittsburgh, like a cult, authorities said. He used his sway to manipulate members of his family and church to commit home invasion-style attacks on mainstream Amish who disagreed with his often messianic leadership methods, they said.
“Mr. Mullet is a cult leader. He is a thug. He is a bully. And Mr. Mullet belongs where criminals belong: in federal prison,” said U.S. Attorney Steven Dettenbach.
A federal jury in September convicted Mullet of hate crimes and kidnapping. His three sons, daughter and 11 other family and community members were convicted on related charges. They received sentences ranging from one to seven years.
Mullet denied orchestrating the attacks, despite recorded jailhouse phone calls in which he spoke of more attacks to come. He remained defiant in court.
“I'm being blamed for a cult leader, and I'm an old man,” Mullet said. “If somebody needs to be punished for this, and I'm a cult leader, then I want to take the punishment for everybody. There's a lot more I could say, but everything I say gets twisted and turned from what I intended it to be, so I don't have much else to say.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bridget Brennan, who argued for a life sentence for Mullet, said the attacks went beyond unwanted hair and beard shearings.
“They were intended to be as terrifying as possible; they were designed to strike fear into the heart of every Amish,” she said. “These attacks were never just about hair. They were about religious symbols.”
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster said he gave Mullet the longest sentence because he showed no remorse for masterminding the attacks and because his dominance over others in the community left them little choice but to follow his orders.
The attacks deprived others of religious freedom, making the acts “particularly reprehensible” because the Amish enjoy privileges most Americans don't under the First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of religion, Polster said. Amish children do not have to stay in school until they're 16, and Amish adults do not have to serve on juries, he noted.
“You trampled on the Constitution,” Polster said. “You have received benefits of the First Amendment, and yet you deprived those same rights to other Amish citizens.”
Mullet and his followers conspired to cut the hair and beards of nine victims during home invasions in 2011, armed with clippers and 8-inch horse-mane scissors. They assaulted people who tried to intervene, lured victims into attacks and in one case drugged a victim.
The attacks were revenge against mainstream Amish who tried to excommunicate Mullet, authorities said. They reported public beatings, men locked in chicken coops and Mullet's “cleansing” younger, married women in his clan by having sex with them.
His attorney, federal Public Defender Ed Bryan, said Mullet has no criminal past and argued that the victims were not physically harmed. Bryan argued the life sentence that prosecutors sought should be reserved for mass murderers and terrorists.
“And the government has the wherewithal to suggest that Samuel Mullet, an Amish farmer of 67 years, warrants life in prison?” Bryan asked.
Mullet and the others have 14 days to appeal, Polster said.
Chris Burke, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Prisons, said rules allow inmates to keep their beards.
In addition to the elder Mullet, Johnny Mullet, Lester Mullet, Levi Miller and Eli Miller received seven-year sentences; Emanuel Shrock, Danny Mullet and Lester Miller got five-year sentences; Linda Shrock and Raymond Miller got two-year sentences; and Freeman Burkholder, Lovina Miller, Anna Miller, Emma Miller, Elizabeth Miller and Kathryn Miller received one-year-and-one-day sentences.
About 100 people packed the courtroom, including members of the Bergholz clan and family of the shearing victims. Many declined to comment.
Amish men start growing beards upon marriage as a sign of passage into adulthood and conformity to the church. They consider it a sacred symbol.
Donald Kraybill, a professor and senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Lancaster County, said he never had heard of beard- shearing as a form of punishment.
“It was a public shaming. It would be like if you had a tattoo on your forehead suddenly,” said Kraybill, who testified as a cultural witness for the prosecution and wrote a book, “The Amish,” due out in March.
The Amish typically do not cooperate with police. In this case, however, many did, even those who had been shamed by having their beards shaved, said Holmes County Prosecutor Steve Knowling, who handled the case before the federal government took over.
“It was a landmark situation, (and) that's what alerted me that this was really serious,” he said. “The attacks had such a chilling impact. They were afraid of this person.”
Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- ‘Time for bold change,’ Wolf says in outlining $30B state budget
- State’s highest court to take up legality of Wolf moratorium on death penalty
- Railroad measure awaits House approval
- Starkey: Penguins not mortgaging future
- Trial of man accused of shooting cyclist in Allentown begins
- Company proposes building 2 gas-fired power plants in West Virginia
- Penguins GM Rutherford not counting on Dupuis’ return
- Spirit Airlines to add daily flights from Latrobe to Chicago O’Hare
- ‘Let It Snow’s’ big-name cast filming all over Western Pennsylvania
- Cal U fraternity president cited after police arrest 7 in weekend brawl
- Wilkinsburg father ordered to have no contact with daughter or her grandmother