12 members of an Amish minority sect were charged with hate crimes for allegedly disbearding rogue members of their sect. In the Amish religion, a man’s beard and hair are sacred. It was further alleged that Amish ring leader, Samuel Mullet (yes, that’s his name, and he was accused of cutting off hair — the irony, right?) was also accused of “counseling married women in his sect and cleansing them with sexual intercourse.” After four and a half days of deliberations the jury found all 16 Amish defendants guilty of federal hate crimes and found that the leader, Bishop Samuel Mullet, organized the beard-trimming and hair-cutting attacks.
Conspiracy to commit hate crimes motivated by religious differences, assault, and evidence tampering.
Who would have thought that the ultimate American outsider religion, the Amish, would have religious rebels within its walls! But sure enough, a minority splinter group of Amish in Ohio has been accused of cutting the beards of Amish leaders, apparently in an act of revenge after being shunned by the mainstream Amish community.
The picturesque green rolling hills, quaint B&Bs and humble buggies that characterize Ohio’s Amish country were marred by reports that Bishop Sam Mullet, 66, his sons, and followers, collectively known as The Bergholz Clan, restrained Amish men and removed their beards and hair with scissors and battery-powered clippers. Twelve people in total have been indicted by the United States Government. The crime is considered particularly deplorable because Amish men, for important religious and cultural reasons, do not cut their hair once they are married. The assault was a clear message intended to denigrate the men who rejected Mullet.
Since the act was motivated by religious differences, The Bergholz Clan are being prosecuted for conspiracy under the federal act that protects against hate crimes. The case will be heard entirely in the federal court in Cleveland, Ohio, and the accused are in the custody of the United States Marshals. If convicted of the attacks, the defendants may be looking at federal custody time up to ten years.
In addition to the above, Bishop Mullet is also said to have forced extreme punishments on those in the community who defied him including, forcing members to sleep for days at a time in a chicken coop on his property and allowing members of The Bergholz Clan to beat other members who appeared to disobey the Bishop. Additionally, and perhaps the most outrageous and shocking claim of them all, Bishop Mullet is said to have been “counseling” the married women in The Bergholz Clan and taking them into his home so that he may cleanse them of the devil with acts of sexual intimacy.
Both the prosecution and the defense rested their cases on September 11, without the defense calling a single witness.
On September 20, after four and a half days of deliberations, the jury found all 16 Amish defendants guilty of federal hate crimes and found that the leader, Bishop Samuel Mullet, organized the beard-trimming and hair-cutting attacks. Mullet was sentenced Feb. 8, 2013, to 15-years in prison with most of the other defendants receiving 5-7 years in prison. Mullet faced a potential life sentence.
On August 28, 2014, nearly two years after the conviction, a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel sided with arguments brought by attorneys for the Amish defendants. In a deeply divided decision, two of the three judges on the panel concluded that the jury received incorrect instructions about how to weigh the role of religion in the attacks. They also said prosecutors should have had to prove that the assaults wouldn’t have happened but for religious motives.
“When all is said and done, considerable evidence supported the defendants’ theory that interpersonal and intra-family disagreements, not the victims’ religious beliefs, sparked the attacks,” the judges wrote.
Mullet had served nearly three years of his 15-year sentence, having been in custody since his initial arrest. The other eight Amish convicted in the attacks either already served one year in prison and have returned to their communities or were about to be released from two-year sentences.
Defense attorney Wendi Overmyer, who represents the Amish, said she likely would be seeking the release of Mullet and the seven other men as the government considers its appeal options.
Bishop Sam Mullet: Given the hairy nature of his alleged crimes (pun definitely intended), we at Wild About Trial can’t get enough of Sam Mullet’s name. But the “business in front, party in the back” ringleader, was convicted of federal offenses for conspiracy to commit hate crimes. He was sentenced to 15-years in prison for the attacks against members of the Amish community. The “hate crime” allegations however were overturned on appeal.
Lester Mullet: Johnny Mullet, and Daniel Mullet: Sons of Sam Mullet and members of his Amish splinter group. They were also convicted of federal charges.
Levi Miller: Member of Mullet’s group who was also indicted and convicted.
Eli Miller: Member of Mullet’s group who was also indicted and convicted.
Emanuel Schrock: Member of Mullet’s group who was also indicted and convicted.
Ed Bryan: Bishop Mullet’s federal public defender who has asked the judge presiding over the case to remove inflammatory language from the indictment. Bryan argued that the prosecution’s graphic descriptions of Mullet’s involvement in sexual practices, corporal punishment and self-deprivation are not part of the charges and serve only to negatively influence the grand jury. Including those details in an indictment for hate crimes is irrelevant and only serves to portray Mullet as “some kind of a so-called cult leader,” according to Bryan.
Hard Time For Hate Crime?
Assaults Aggravated Enough To Be Hate Crimes
Conviction For Amish Beard Cutters
The Government Wants To Say What Is Amish Enough
Is Forcible Beard-Cutting Constitutionally Protected
The Inside Scoop On The Amish Beard Cutters
Not Guilty Pleas In Amish Beard-Cutting Attacks
FBI Arrests 7 In Amish Haircut Attacks In US
Introduction: In order for the prosecution to prevail, they have to show that The Bergholz Clan inflicted bodily injury on their victims. Beard cutting, although traumatic for members of the Amish community, may not be treated as seriously as other kinds of injuries with more life-threatening consequences. However, the United States Government is also alleging that The Bergholz Clan roughed up their victims, which will likely meet the bodily injury requirement of the hate crime law.
Surprisingly, the most difficult case for the Government to prove will most likely be against alleged ringleader Bishop Mullet. According to statements given to law enforcement, the Bishop wasn’t present during any of the attacks. While his minions — Johnny, Lester and Daniel Mullet, along with Eli and Levi Miller — have made confessions to the authorities (and in doing so, managed to make incriminating statements about each other) none of them claimed that Bishop Mullet directly ordered the attacks.
In his Affidavit in Support of Criminal Complaint, FBI Special Agent Sirohman detailed each confession stating:
(1) Johnny S. Mullet confessed to his involvement, as well as the involvement of Daniel S. Mullet, Lester Mullet, Levi Miller and Eli Miller in the attacks. He stated that the group committed the hair and beard cutting attacks out of anger and revenge. Mullet stated that it was his idea to cut off the head and beard hair of two of the victims. And although his father, Bishop Mullet, provided the men with the addresses of the victims and knew of their plans, Bishop Mullet did not send them to commit the crimes.
(2) Lester S. Mullet also confessed to his involvement; however, he stated that after the attacks, the men went to Bishop Mullet’s home and told him what they had done. His response, according to Lester, was to laugh and say that they were nuts.
(3) Levi Mullet also confessed to his involvement. And while he told authorities that he did not think that Bishop Mullet told them to do it, he did concede that his father usually gives the order to The Bergholz Clan because he is the leader.
But the Government is not without some strong evidence that Bishop Mullet was intimately involved.
The evidence against the Bishop includes:
(1) Motive–Bishop Mullet was the one who had been ostracized by the other Amish leaders for his harsh and revengeful acts against those in his sect that disagreed with him.
(2) Several recorded jail calls in which Bishop Mullet is said to be discussing the destruction of vital evidence–the scissors which were used to remove the beards and the camera which documented the alleged attacks.
(3) Other recorded jail calls in which Bishop Mullet is heard talking about committing more attacks in the future.
And then there are Bishop Mullet’s own words, taken from the Affidavit of Criminal Complaint, which is usually what does a defendant in. In the Complaint, Special Agent Sirohman addressed two public statements made by Bishop Mullet. Both of which ring of an arrogance and superiority, two traits normally frowned upon by American jurisprudence.
In an October 7, 2011 news story, wkyc.com published video coverage of Bishop Mullet talking about the head and beard hair cutting incidents. Bishop Mullet declared, “It’s all religion. That’s why we can’t figure out why the sheriff has his nose in it. It started with us excommunicating members that weren’t listening or obeying the laws. That’s where it started.”
Lastly, on October 10, 2011, the Associated Press published statements attributed to Bishop Mullet, including the following: (a) the goal of the hair cutting was to send a message to Amish in Holmes County that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating Bishop Mullet and his community; and (b) he should be allowed to punish people who break the laws of the church, just as police are allowed to punish people who break the laws of the state, “You have your laws on the road and the town—if somebody doesn’t obey them, you punish the people? But I’m not allowed to punish the church people? I just let them run over me? If every family would do just as they pleased what kind of church would we have?”
Could the Bishop’s own words have actually done him in? We will have to wait and see, but there is an important saying that bears repeating in this case:
Have you ever seen a fish on the wall with its mouth shut?
September 13, 2012: As we eagerly await the jury’s decision in this case, we have to take a moment to talk about the defense strategy. The prosecution’s case went on for a solid three weeks. They have called numerous witnesses in an attempt to give the jury insight into the values and lifestyle of this very insular community.
After all that, the defense called — no one. They declined to put on a case and asked that closing arguments begin the next day.
This unusual defense strategy would only ever be deployed if an acquittal was a sure thing. Now, to be clear, only the prosecution has an affirmative obligation to put on a case. The prosecution carries the sole burden of proving all the charges.
The defense need not put on a defense, particularly if the prosecution has not adequately proven its case.
Apparently, the Bergholz Clan’s lawyers feel confident that the prosecution did not prove their case.
Part of the problem might be that the federal prosecutors did not file the appropriate charges. Testimony given at trial tends to show that Bishop Mullet and his followers might be guilty of assault, even sexual assault in the cases where women were coerced into sex as a part of ritual cleansings. But the government needed to prove that the Bergholz Clan is guilty of hate crimes, and that’s very different.
For an attack to rise to the level of a hate crime, it has to be religiously motivated. In these Amish-on-Amish attacks, it’s hard to show that a difference in religion was the reason behind the assaults. Although the Bergholz Clan may represent a splinter group, they are still part of the community.
If non-Amish had come in and violently and forcefully shaved the beards of Amish men as a means to protest their way of life, that would clearly be a hate crime. But when people within the same community assault one another, it’s much harder to prove a hate crime. The defense clearly thinks the prosecution did not do its job properly and is expecting an acquittal. After today’s jury deliberations, we will see.
September 21, 2012: The verdict is in! Guilty as to all sixteen defendants. Certainly a shocking outcome for the defense team, who was so confident in an acquittal that they did not even put on a case, but the jurors had their minds made up.
The deliberations took quite a while, probably because there were so many defendants and the jurors needed to be in complete agreement as to every single count, as to every single defendant. That’s a lot of voting and discussion, and it is not surprising that they jury took their time and carefully examined the three weeks’ worth of evidence mounted by the prosecution.
The jury had some questions about conspiracy, and the extent to which various members of the Bergholtz Clan needed to be involved to support a conspiracy conviction.
Ultimately, convictions across the board, including for the ringleader Sam Mullet, who never actually participated in the attacks.
This is a great example of a case where the jury is so disgusted by the defendants’ acts that they will convict even when the prosecution’s theory of the case is off-base. After three weeks of testimony about the fear and intimidation methods this group used within the Amish community, including violently shearing body hair and sexually “counseling” fem