Amish Beard-Cutters Fail to Nix New Sentences

     (CN) — A group of Amish men and women who cut the beards and hair of those they deemed hypocrites will serve between one and 11 years in prison, the Sixth Circuit affirmed Wednesday.
     In 2012, a jury convicted 16 people, including Amish bishop Samuel Mullet Sr., of federal hate crimes against members of their own Bergholz community whose beards they sheared.
     Since Amish cannot operate motor vehicles, Mullet and his parishioners hired drivers to transport them to the homes of their perceived religious enemies. Once there, they used scissors or batter-powered clippers to forcibly shave the beards of men and the hair of women.
     “During each assault, the defendants restrained and held down the victims,” according to the December 2012 indictment. “During some of the assaults, the defendants injured individuals who attempted to intervene to protect or rescue the victims.”
     The jury heard testimony that the assaults constituted hate crimes because the manner in which men wear their beards and women wear their hair in the Amish community are considered symbols of their faith.
     However, a divided Sixth Circuit panel overturned the hate-crime convictions in 2014.
     “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,” Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote for the majority of the Cincinnati-based appeals court.
     The defendants were then resentenced on conspiracy and kidnapping charges. Eight were sentenced to time served, and the other eight were given terms ranging from 43 to 129 months in prison. Mullet received the lengthiest sentence for his leadership role in the attacks.
     On appeal, Mullet and others argued that the judge’s imposition of a maximum sentence for unlawful restraint was unduly harsh.
     The same Sixth Circuit panel expressed incredulity at oral arguments that the defendants were dissatisfied with their sentences given that the most serious hate-crime convictions were vacated.
     The government declined to retry those charges because it would force the victims, who are all Amish, to travel to court by horse and buggy.
     “The defendants claim that their sentences were too long in relation to the seriousness of the offenses and greater than necessary to satisfy the imperatives of federal sentencing law,” Sutton wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel in an opinion issued Wednesday. “We disagree. The sentences were substantively reasonable.”
     The sentencing judge took into account the fact that none of the defendants have any prior record and most have very young children, the panel said in Wednesday’s ruling.
     However, the judge also found that the victims will bear emotional scars for the rest of their lives, and the sentences should be significant enough to punish defendants.
     Sutton also affirmed the decision to enhance the sentences because some of the assault victims were elderly or in poor health, and to give Mullet a leadership enhancement.
     “The district court had ample reason to believe that Samuel played a starring role in this conspiracy,” Sutton said. “He was the bishop of the Bergholz community and controlled life there. One witness described him as ‘a dictator.’ After each attack, including those where the assailants used the camera, everyone met at Samuel’s house. He also gave instructions to others about the camera. All of that suffices to uphold the enhancement.”

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