CLEVELAND – Members of a breakaway Amish community found guilty of chopping off the beards and hair of others they disagreed with could be let out of prison or have their sentences reduced Monday if a judge throws out their remaining convictions.
The 16 men and women are to be resentenced in Cleveland after a federal appeals court last year dismissed all of their hate crimes convictions in the 2011 attacks.
The victims were awakened in the middle of the night, restrained and forcibly disfigured in a way intended to destroy an important symbol of their beliefs, prosecutors have said.
Related charges including conspiracy to obstruct justice were left intact, but the appeals panel ruled that the defendants' original sentences did not distinguish between the charges. Eight of those sentenced in February 2013 have already served their time and can't be sent back to prison.
Community leader Samuel Mullet Sr. was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Seven received sentences of either five or seven years.
Mullet did not participate in any of the attacks, but prosecutors accused him of exercising control over members of his community and helping hide evidence.
Defense attorneys said Mullet is not likely to get into trouble again.
"This case has served to educate both the Amish and the general population about the dangers of such conduct," his attorneys wrote. "Mullet's only wish is to return to a peaceful Amish community and put this ordeal behind him."
Mullet's life would be much different today, his attorneys said. His wife of nearly 40 years died in November and several community members have left the Amish faith, including one of his co-defendants.
The community in Bergholz, which sits near the West Virginia panhandle, has been shunned by other Amish communities and hasn't been able to find another Amish bishop willing to perform marriages and funerals, according to the defense motion.
"A stigma will forever be attached to this community," the attorneys wrote.
Federal prosecutors have argued that U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster gave the defendants less prison time than sentencing guidelines allowed and that those sentences are shorter than the recommended range.
Despite the appellate court's dismissal of the hate crimes convictions, prosecutors argue, the other crimes for which they were convicted were motivated by religion.