Amish elder petitions to void verdict

Man sentenced to 15 yearsfor beard-cutting assaults


CINCINNATI — Amish sect leader Sam Mullet, sentenced to 15 years in prison in connection with beard and hair-cutting attacks in Ohio, is asking a federal appellate court to overturn his conviction.

His public defender, Ed Bryan, filed notice of appeal this week with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, although the first briefs aren’t due for many months.

Mr. Bryan, who met with his client Thursday, said one of the main issues will be the judge’s instruction to the jurors that they could find Mullet, 67, guilty of violating the federal hate crimes statute even if they felt that religious differences were only one of several motivations for the attacks.

Mr. Bryan said that instruction was improper because the statute makes no provision for multiple motivations.

Federal prosecutors argued that Mullet, as bishop of Bergholz, ordered the attacks on Amish who disagreed with his authoritarian leadership.

The jury decided that religious disputes were the trigger.

Mr. Bryan and lawyers for the 15 others convicted in the case, all but one of whom are related to Mullet, have long held that the hate crimes law is overly broad and that the Justice Department misapplied it to the Mullet clan.

Mr. Bryan said the assaults were the result of various disputes between the victims and their own families, not Mullet’s rule as a religious leader. At most, Mr. Bryan and others have argued, the attacks should have been prosecuted as local assault cases and not shoehorned as a hate crime into the federal court system.

He said he also will appeal on several other grounds, including his contention that the 15-year prison term imposed Feb. 8 by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster was too harsh.

He said the government sought to jack up Mullet’s sentence by invoking an enhancement for kidnapping that Mr. Bryan said the facts do not support.

The appeal also will address Mr. Bryan’s argument, raised in a motion for a new trial rejected by Judge Polster, that the government’s evidence was not strong enough to link Mullet to the attacks.

In addition, Mr. Bryan said he will challenge the judge’s decision to allow testimony by Mullet’s daughter-in-law about her sexual relationship with him.

The government used that testimony to bolster its theory that Mullet was a cult-like leader whose minions did his bidding.

But Mr. Bryan argued that it unfairly prejudiced the jury against his client because the allegations had nothing to do with the beard-cuttings, and Mr. Mullet was never charged with any sex crimes.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Torsten Ove is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

Contact Torsten Ove at: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510.