CLEVELAND - Denying he ran an Amish cult, the 67-year-old ringleader of hair- and beard-cutting attacks on fellow members of his faith in Ohio was sentenced Friday to 15 years in prison, while family members convicted of carrying out his orders got one to seven years.
The judge said the defendants had violated the constitutional rights protecting religious practice that had also benefited them as Amish. Authorities had prosecuted the attacks as a hate crime.
Before his sentencing, Samuel Mullet Sr. told the judge he had been accused of running a cult. Mullet, his ankles in chains and a white beard down to mid-chest, said that if his community is seen as a cult, "Then I'm going to take the punishment for everybody."
Amish men and women leave the U.S. Federal courthouse on Friday in Cleveland. Sam Mullet Sr., 67, the ringleader in a series of hair- and beard-cutting attacks on fellow Amish, was sentenced Friday to 15 years in prison, and 15 family members received lesser sentences.
of one year to seven years. The defendants were charged with a hate crime because prosecutors believe religious differences brought about the attacks.
The 10 men and six women were convicted last year in five attacks in Ohio Amish communities in 2011. The government said the attacks were retaliation against Amish who had defied or denounced Mullet's authoritarian hold over the splinter group he started in 1995.
One of the attacks Mullet was accused of orchestrating was in Mesopotamia.
Martin and Barbara Miller, 4088 state Route 87, Mesopotamia, and formerly of Jefferson County, said six men, including sons and a son-in-law, came into the house about 10 p.m. Sept. 6, 2011, held them down, and cut their hair and beard.
Trumbull County Sheriff's Lt. Richard McBride said that at first he encountered resistance from Barbara Miller but after some coaxing, she pointed to her husband, whose beard had been cut, and said, "They did that to him," the sheriff's report states.
She then removed the bandanna she was wearing to reveal several patches of missing hair. "And they did this to me," she told McBride.
On Friday, Eli Miller, who is Amish and operates Miller's Harness and Leather in Mesopotamia, said the feeling of the community is easily summed up.
''If you don't obey the Mullet law of the Bible you must obey the civil laws of the courts,'' Miller said soon after the sentencings were announced.
He said the sentences handed out seemed to be appropriate but that the entire saga was not a welcome one for the Amish community.
''It certainly was a black eye to those who don't know us,'' Miller said.
He added, though, that he believes most people know that Mullet and his followers are a minority and don't represent the entire Amish community.
The case has opened a rare window to the lives of the insular Amish, who shun many facets of modern life and are deeply religious. Amish believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards once they marry. Cutting it would be shameful and offensive.
"The victims were terrorized and traumatized," U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster said, noting that the same constitution that exempts them from jury service and permission to leave school at 14 was turned against the victims. "Each of you has received the benefits of that First Amendment."
With relatives of victims and his family sitting on opposite sides of the public gallery, Mullet said he has lived his life trying to help others.
"That's been my goal all my life," Mullet said to a hushed courtroom, with his fellow defendants and their attorneys sitting at four defense tables and filling the jury box.
"I'm not going to be here much longer," said Mullet, who didn't elaborate on any health issues.
The government had asked for a life sentence for Mullet, while the defense asked for two years or less.
Some defendants tearfully offered to take the brunt of the blame and punishment on behalf of Mullet or their spouses. Addressing the judge one by one, they said there would be no more beard-cutting attacks.
Freeman Burkholder, the 32-year-old husband of a Mullet niece and father of eight children, apologized to the judge.
"I won't do it again," he said.
Anna Miller, 33, married to a Mullet nephew and mother of six, also apologized, turning to relatives of victims as she said, "I'm sorry, it won't happen again." Like most of the women, she was sentenced to one year.
Federal prosecutor Bridget Brennan urged the judge to punish Mullet adequately.
"He is a danger to this community," she said. "He is capable of controlling 15 defendants."
Brennan repeated key testimony against Mullet and said he has remained the leader of his eastern Ohio community despite being locked up since his arrest in late 2011.
U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach, whose office directed the prosecution, said he was confident the law would withstand a constitutional challenge.
The judge said the defendants have two weeks to file appeals of their sentences or convictions. Defense attorneys have indicated such appeals are likely.