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Judge Refuses to Free Leader of Amish Beard-cutting Sect

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CLEVELAND (RNS) A federal judge Wednesday (Jan. 11) refused to release the leader of an Amish splinter sect from jail on charges he orchestrated the cutting of beards of Amish men over longstanding religious disagreements.
Samuel Mullet Sr. and 11 others pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Cleveland to five attacks last fall that shone an unwanted light on Ohio’s Amish community. Mullet and six others have been detained since their arrest Nov. 23 for hate crimes.

In court, Mullet and his followers appeared downcast during a hearing before U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster. Mullet and six others wore bright orange jail uniforms and were shackled at the wrists or legs.

In the back of the courtroom, a dozen Amish women wearing identical long green skirts, scarves and coats watched the hearing. Afterward, one of them cried softly.

Federal authorities say the attacks last fall were motivated by revenge after a group of Amish bishops refused to accept Mullet’s excommunication of eight families who had left his community in 2005 or 2006 because they disagreed with his authoritarian leadership. Prosecutors said nine people were either hurt or disfigured.

The FBI said in an affidavit that Mullet, 66, forced wayward followers to sleep in chicken coops for days at a time on his 800-acre farm in Bergholz, Ohio. He also took married women in his community into his home “to cleanse them of the devil with acts of sexual intimacy,” the FBI said.

Mullet’s public defender attorney, Edward Bryan, called the evidence against his client weak and overstated. He said Mullet should be released from jail pending his trial, set for March 19. He stressed that the attacks were random and that the furor associated with Mullet is unjustified.

“The fear that something apocalyptic is going to happen at the hands of Sam Mullet is just that, a fear, a remote and irrational fear,” Bryan said. He said the fear that Mullet is a flight risk “is borderline laughable.”

Bryan said prosecutors have not presented evidence from anyone in Mullet’s community that proves he mistreated them.

Bridget Brennan, an assistant U.S. attorney, said authorities have learned that Mullet knew of every attack and helped plan and encourage them. She cited a phone call in which Mullet talked with one of his sons, who had been arrested in October and placed in the Holmes County Jail after one of the attacks.

“Ray and the men are ready to do it again, should I say,” said Mullet, according to Brennan, referring to a transcript of the call.

In a document filed in federal court seeking to prevent Mullet’s release, Thomas Getz, an assistant U.S. attorney, said: “Samuel Mullet Sr. is primarily and ultimately responsible for this series of violent attacks. They were carried out by his loyal and devoted followers, to settle his scores.”

After hearing the evidence, Polster sided with prosecutors. He discussed but rejected an electronic monitor, since Mullet’s home has no electricity.

The six others also will remain in jail. Polster ordered five who were not detained to avoid contact with the victims.

(John Caniglia writes for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland.)