CLEVELAND - Four more people recently accused of attacking in Mesopotamia two family members who had broken away from a radical Amish sect pleaded not guilty Wednesday to federal charges that could land them in prison for life.
The four are among 12 people indicted on hate crime and conspiracy charges stemming from five documented attacks on members who broke away from a radical Bergholz Amish clan or leaders of other Amish communities.
Pleading not guilty Wednesday in the Cleveland courtroom of U.S. Northern District Judge Dan A. Polster was Lester Miller, 37, of Irondale; Freeman Burkholder, 30, Irondale; Raymond Miller, 37, Irondale; and Anna Miller, of Bergholz. The four are accused of involvement in a September attack on Raymond Miller's parents in Mesopotamia.
The four were ordered freed on $20,000 unsecured bond and ordered to have no contact with the alleged victims, which include family members and co-workers.
"With the amount of terror they caused these people, the government strongly feels they should be given a no-contact order," said assistant U.S. attorney Bridget M. Brennan.
All 12 defendants including alleged leader Samuel Mullet Sr., 66, of Bergholz, pleaded not guilty.All are facing life in prison for hate crimes and five years in federal prison on the conspiracy charge. Four others, including Sam Mullet; Lester Mullet, 26, of Hammondsville; Levi Miller, 53, of Bergholz; and Lester Miller, are facing obstruction of justice charges carrying a 20-year maximum sentence.
Samuel Mullet, 66, of Bergholz
Johnny S. Mullet, 37, of Bergholz
Daniel S. Mullet, 37, of Bergholz
Levi F. Miller, 53, of Bergholz
Eli M. Miller, 32, of Bergholz
Emanuel Shrock, age unknown, of Bergholz
Lester Miller, 37, of Irondale
Raymond Miller, 37, of Irondale
Freeman Burkholder, 30, of Irondale
Anna Miller, age unknown, of Bergholz
Linda Shrock, age unknown, of Bergholz
Lester Mullet, 26, of Hammondsville
Hate crime, maximum life in prison, $250,000 fine
Conspiracy, maximum five years in prison, $250,000 fine
Obstructing justice, 20 years, $250,000 fine
Polster denied bail for Samuel Mullet and one of his sons, Johnny S. Mullet, 37, of Bergholz, because neither has electricity in his home, meaning electronic monitoring equipment would not work.
Sam Mullet's attorney, Edward G. Bryan, argued Sam Mullet was not a flight risk because he founded the Bergholz community.
"Quite frankly, the evidence is weak and not overwhelming," Bryan said. "The evidence is very sketchy. In light of his significant ties, finding him a flight risk is borderline laughable."
Bryan also said testimony at a previous detention hearing by Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla was "self-serving testimony" against someone Abdalla "has an ax to grind with." Bryan cited a previous lawsuit filed by Sam Mullet against Abdalla in a domestic relations case involving one of Sam Mullet's daughters.
He also said Sam Mullet intends to fight the charges in court.
Brennan countered that Sam Mullet was the driving force behind the attacks and that prosecutors have other witnesses that will testify he directed others to perform the attacks.
"He enjoys them," Brennan said. "He coordinates them. He gives the orders."
Polster also ordered that Sam Mullet hire someone to properly assess how much his 800 acres are worth after he asked the judge to appoint an attorney for him. Sam Mullet said his name is on the mortgages but that his sons pay for some of the land. Brennan, the prosecutor, argued that the judge presiding over the case against former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora ruled he needed to take out a mortgage on his $1 million Strongsville property.
Polster said after the court investigates, Sam Mullet may be ordered to pay his attorney.
Polster also set a tentative trial date for March 19, which likely will be pushed back.
An FBI affidavit for the group's Nov. 23 arrest said Eli Miller confessed to Holmes County Sheriff's Office investigators that he led the attack on the Barbara Miller family of Mesopotamia. Barbara Miller, 57, told Trumbull County Sheriff's detectives investigating the attack that she and her husband, Martin, 57, were attacked by close family members.
It's the earliest of the five documented instances, where members of Sam Mullet's group is accused of assaulting those who defected, held them down and cut their hair or beards with scissors or clippers.
The affidavit and reports said Eli, Lester and Raymond Miller, all Sam Mullet's nephews, along with Anna Miller and Freeman Burkholder, who is married to one of Sam Mullet's nieces, went into Barbara Miller's 4088 state Route 87 home about 10:30 a.m., Sept. 6, held them down, cut her husband's beard and cut her hair, which she had hidden under a bandanna when investigators arrived at the house.
Burkholder and Anna Miller were recently added to the indictment because of their roles in the attack in Mesopotamia. Linda Shrock, one of Sam Mullet's 18 children, was recently charged with her role in a Nov. 9 attack in which her husband, Emmanuel Shrock invited two people to their home, told Jefferson County Sheriff Frank Abdalla he would not harm the two, then attacked both. The indictment says Linda Shrock restrained and assaulted one person, then when the other tried to stop the attack, assaulted that person while her husband cut the first man's head and beard hair.
Cutting the hair is a highly offensive act to the Amish, who believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry. One victim told the FBI he would rather have been "beaten black and blue than to suffer the disfigurement and humiliation of having his hair removed," according to the affidavit.
The group is accused of committing three other similar attacks in Holmes and Carroll counties and, according to the affidavit, and were making plans for other attacks while inside the Jefferson County Jail waiting to post bond on state charges in October.
The affidavit said the attacks stem from eight families who left Sam Mullet Sr.'s Bergholz community in 2005 because they disagreed with his direction. Mullet Sr. then excommunicated them from his clan, meaning they were unable to join another community without his go-ahead.
The affidavit said Mullet Sr. controlled all aspects of the community and forced extreme penalties on those who defied him. He forced members to sleep for, in one case, up to 12 days in a chicken coop on his property, allowed members of his clan to beat other members who disobeyed his orders and told married women he would "cleanse them of the devil with acts of sexual intimacy" at his home, the affidavit said.
The courtroom Wednesday was packed with about 20 Amish people, including family members of the accused, and with a high school class taking a field trip to the courthouse. The family members declined comment.
One man, Eli Shetler, of Mount Eaton, the Bishop and leader of the Holmes and Wayne counties Amish communities, said he came to provide support for followers of Mullet's clan.
"It's sad to see people following the man and not the Word," Shetler said. "I'm here because I'm interested in working with people with problems and help those who need led to freedom."
Shetler also said he considers the Mullet clan a cult and was shocked to learn of the details of how Mullet controlled his community.
"We've never heard of this before in the Amish community," Shetler said. "Nothing like this has ever happened."