CLEVELAND – An Amish preacher testified Wednesday that he watched three men cut his father's hair and beard during an attack last fall that left his father shaking and relatives screaming.
Andy Hershberger was the first witness in the federal trial of a breakaway Amish group from eastern Ohio accused of hate crimes in hair-cutting attacks on fellow Amish. Prosecutors say Hershberger's father was among those attacked because he and the leader of the breakaway group had religious differences.
Andy Hershberger testified that his father, an Amish bishop, pleaded for the men not to shear him. But he said within minutes, the hair from his father's beard had been cut and scattered across the floor. He said clumps of hair were missing from his father's head and his scalp was bleeding.
Beards and hair have great religious importance among the Amish.
Andy Hershberger testified that the men arrived at the house in the evening and said, "We want to talk with you and your dad." Once inside, one of the defendants, whom he identified as Johnny Mullet — son of accused ringleader Sam Mullet Sr. — stood up and said: "We're from Bergholz. We're here to do what you did to our people."
Hersherger described a chaotic scene, with the men holding him, his father, Raymond, and his brother down while his father was sheared.
"I saw the hair fly," Andy Hershberger testified. Afterward, he said, his father "was shaking all over."
"The women and my dad were crying," he said.
Prosecutors say his father, Raymond Hershberger, was targeted because he was among several bishops who had religious disagreements with Mullet.
Attorneys for the defendants don't deny that the hair cuttings took place. Instead, they argued that the Amish are bound by different rules guided by their religion and that the government shouldn't get involved in what amounted to a family or church dispute.
Their attorneys say members of the breakaway group took action out of concern that some Amish were straying from their beliefs.