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Overreach? Feds Seek Life Imprisonment For Amish Beard-Attacking Bishop

Overreach? Feds Seek Life Imprisonment For Amish Beard-Attacking Bishop

Life imprisonment

Sam Mullet, father of two men arrested for allegedly going into the home of other Amish and cutting their hair and beards, stands outside his home in Bergholz, Ohio, Oct. 10. ( Amy Sancetta/AP).

The feds are seeking life imprisonment for Sam Mullet, the Amish bishop behind the 2011 beard-cuttings attacks.

Life imprisonment.

“Federal prosecutors Tuesday urged a judge to send renegade Amish bishop Sam Mullet to prison for the rest of his life at sentencing Friday,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

Mullet’s lawyers have pushed back on this suggestion, arguing that no one was seriously harmed and that -- if anything -- he should get no more than two years behind bars.

Mullet and his band of 15 amateur barbers will be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Cleveland.

The Mullet family, and other members of the Amish sect. (Getty Images).

“The all-day hearing is expected to draw journalists from across the country and even from some foreign nations, enticed by the spectacle of violence and scandal in the seemingly placid Amish world,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes.

“Mr. Mullet did not directly participate in the attacks that roiled Ohio Amish country in 2011, but he was convicted under the federal hate crimes statute because of what prosecutors said was his all-powerful control over the Jefferson County community of Bergholz outside Steubenville,” the report adds.

Prosecutors say Mullet knew about the “hate crimes,” which were designed to “degrade” other Amish, and he didn’t do anything to stop them. Therefore, he should get life in prison.

Witnesses for the prosecution also stress Mullet’s cult-like following, which includes his sons, nieces, and nephews.

"Plainly stated, Samuel Mullet Sr. should be sentenced to a life term of imprisonment because, but for [him], it is highly unlikely any of his co-defendants would have engaged in violent and obstructive conduct," said prosecutors in a pre-sentence memo to U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster. "Samuel Mullet Sr.'s control over the Bergholz community was -- and is -- absolute."

Here are some weird examples of Mullet's “absolute” control (as noted by the prosecution):

  • Mullet read all incoming and outgoing mail at Bergholz.
  • He doled out punishments, including confinement in chicken coops.
  • He had sex with married women (he called it "marriage counseling").
  • He once ordered his wife get fetch him a woman who didn’t want to sleep with him.

“Prosecutors also presented 14 letters from members of Amish communities in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, thanking the FBI for investigating the Mullet clan and asking that he stay locked up permanently,” the report notes.

Assistant U.S. Public Defender Ed Bryan disagrees with the prosecution's suggestion of life imprisonment, noting that that type of punishment has in the past been reserved for people like Ted Kaczynski (i.e. the “Unabomber”) -- not Amish renegades.

Bryan also stresses that outside of a few nicks and cuts, no one was seriously injured in the attacks.

"The purpose of the beard and hair cuttings was a symbolic gesture, which at most caused an emotional or psychological response," he wrote. "But no victim suffered serious physical injury in the incidents."

He also adds that the “Justice Department improperly applied the federal hate crimes law in bringing the indictment,” as the Post-Gazette notes.

Photos provided by the Jefferson County Sheriffs Department show, from left, Levi Miller, Johnny Mullet, and Lester Mullet, of Bergholz, Ohio. The three men were arrested Oct. 8, 2011, for allegedly going into the homes of other Amish and cutting their hair and beards.

And here’s something worth considering: “The trial was a test case of sorts for the 2009 law that expanded government power to prosecute hate crimes.”

Bryan and others involved in the trial maintain that the beard-cutting attacks are not “hate crimes,”  but merely the result of a dispute within a religion.

 Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdaams) on Twitter

Featured image courtesy ABC News.

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