(Newsroom America) -- A jury in Cleveland has convicted 16 people, all residents of Ohio, of federal hate crimes arising out of a series of religiously motivated assaults on practitioners of the Amish religion.
The convictions stem from a series of separate hate crime assaults that occurred in four Ohio counties between September and November 2011. In each assault, defendants forcibly removed beard and head hair from practitioners of the Amish faith with whom they had ongoing religious disputes.
In three of these hate crime assaults, defendants invaded the homes of these practitioners and restrained their movements while shearing their hair, causing pain and other physical injuries. The manner in which Amish men wear their beards and Amish women wear their hair are symbols of their faith, according to trial testimony.
Samuel Mullet, Sr., 66; Johnny S. Mullet, 39; Daniel S. Mullet, 38; Levi F. Miller, 54; Eli M. Miller, 32; Emanuel Shrock, age unknown; Lester Miller, 37; Anna Miller, age unknown; Linda Shrock, age unknown; Emma J. Miller, age unknown; Kathryn Miller, age unknown; and Lovina Miller, age 32, all of Bergholz, Ohio; Raymond Miller, 27; Freeman Burkholder, 31; Elizabeth A. Miller, age unknown; and Kathryn Miller, age unknown, all from Irondale, Ohio; and Lester Mullet, 27, of Hammondsville, Ohio, were found guilty of conspiring to violate the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which prohibits any person from willfully causing bodily injury to any person, or attempting to do so by use of a dangerous weapon, because of the actual or perceived religion of that person.
The jury also convicted various groups of defendants with four hate crime counts against eight specific victims and found that such hate crimes involved kidnapping. The jury also convicted Samuel Mullet, Sr., Lester Mullet, and Eli Miller with concealing or attempting to conceal various items of tangible evidence. Finally, the jury also convicted Sam Mullet of making false statements to the FBI.
Judge Dan Aaron Polster scheduled a sentencing hearing on January 24, 2013. The defendants face terms of up to life in prison.
“The violent and offensive actions of these defendants, which were aimed at beliefs and symbols held sacred by this country’s Amish citizens, are an affront to religious freedom and tolerance, which are core values protected by our Constitution and our civil rights laws,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Those laws prohibit the use of violence to settle religious differences and the Department of Justice and the Civil Rights Division will vigorously enforce those laws.”
Samuel Mullet, Sr. is the bishop of the Amish community in Bergholz, Ohio, while the remaining defendants are all members of that community. Mullet, Sr. exerted control over the Bergholz community by taking the wives of other men into his home and by overseeing various means of disciplining community members, including corporal punishment, according to trial testimony.
As a result of religious disputes with other members of the Ohio Amish community, the defendants planned and carried out a series of assaults on their perceived religious enemies. The assaults involved the use of hired drivers, either by the defendants or the alleged victims, because practitioners of the Amish religion do not operate motor vehicles. The assaults all entailed using scissors and battery-powered clippers to forcibly cut or shave the beard hair of the male victims and the head hair of the female victims, according to the indictment.
During each assault, the defendants restrained and held down the victims. During some of the assaults, the defendants injured individuals who attempted to intervene to protect or rescue the victims. Following the attacks, some of the defendants participated in discussions about concealing photographs and other evidence of the assaults, according to evidence presented at trial.
“From day one, this case has been about the rule of law and defending the right of people to worship in peace,” said Steven Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. “Our nation was founded on the bedrock principle that everyone is free to worship how they see fit. Violent attempts to attack this most basic freedom have no place in our country.”
“This case is an excellent example of cooperation between the many law enforcement agencies that investigated these crimes, along with the prosecution team from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice,” said Stephen Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI-Cleveland Field Office. “The FBI is committed to investigating hate crimes, including those perpetrated against people motivated by bias toward religion as in this case, or other areas protected by our civil rights statutes.”