COLUMBUS, Ohio – Federal prosecutors on Wednesday charged an additional four women with being involved in beard-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in Ohio, and added new allegations that suspects tried to hide or destroy evidence including a bag of hair from the victims.
The updated indictment filed in federal court in Cleveland also charges alleged ringleader Sam Mullet Jr. with lying to federal agents during their investigation by denying knowledge of an October assault.
The new allegations bring to 16 the number of people charged in the attacks on other Amish last year. The dozen previous defendants have pleaded not guilty.
The new defendants, Lovina Miller, Kathryn Miller, Emma Miller and Elizabeth Miller, are members of the Amish community in Bergholz in eastern Ohio near Steubenville and are married to some of Mullet's nephews, according to the indictment filed late Wednesday.
A feud over church discipline allegedly led to attacks in which the beards and hair of men and hair of women were cut, an act considered deeply offensive in Amish culture. The Amish believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry.
The 10-count indictment includes charges of conspiracy, assault and evidence tampering in what prosecutors say were hate crimes motivated by religious differences.
Additional charges Wednesday allege the defendants burned a bag of hair collected from alleged victims assaulted in Trumbull County in September, and tried to cover up the use of an 8-inch horse mane knife used in an October attack in Holmes County.
The new charges also allege defendants used a disposable camera bought at Wal-Mart to take pictures of the victims, then hid the camera from authorities until eventually turning it over on March 16.
The indictment also alleges that Mullet knew members of his community planned to visit a house in Holmes County on Oct. 4 where an attack took place, then lied to FBI agents in a November interview when he denied knowledge of that visit beforehand.
The previous 12 defendants charged in the attack have all said they plan to challenge the constitutionality of the federal hate crimes law. Messages were left after office hours for Mullet's public defender.
Several members of the group living in Bergholz carried out the attacks in September, October and November by forcibly cutting the beards and hair of Amish men and women and then taking photos to shame them, authorities have said.
Mullet told The Associated Press in October that he didn't order the hair-cutting but didn't stop his sons and others from carrying it out. He said the goal was to send a message to other Amish that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating Mullet and his community.
In addition to Mullet, the indictment also charges four of his children, a son-in-law, three nephews, the spouses of a niece and nephew and a member of the Mullet community in Bergholz.
Authorities said previously that some Amish refused to press charges, following their practice of avoiding involvement of the courts.
Ohio has an estimated Amish population of just under 61,000 -- second only to Pennsylvania -- with most living in rural counties south and east of Cleveland.