Lawyers spar over jailing of Ohio Amish suspects

Prosecutors and defense attorneys are sparring over whether father-and-son suspects in beard- and hair-cutting attacks against fellow Amish are a threat to the community and should remain in jail pending trial.

A lawyer for Lester Mullet says his detention has become a hardship for his family and that his client should be released to help his pregnant wife and their three children.

The lawyer representing Mullet's father, Sam Mullet Sr., the alleged ringleader of the attacks, says his client has a strong financial incentive to honor any conditions of a release on bond, since he is responsible for property that is at the heart of his eastern Ohio Amish community's life.

Detention has been a burden for Sam Mullet, "but it also a great burden on his family, perhaps even more than the average federal defendant," his attorney, federal public defender Edward Bryan, said in a court filing last week.

"The Amish depend nearly entirely on their own land for sustenance, and all hands are needed at this crucial time to ensure an adequate growing season," Bryan wrote, asking U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster to reconsider an earlier decision denying Mullet's release.

The Mullets and 14 other members of their family or community are accused of orchestrating a series of attacks last fall on other Amish in Ohio in which men's beards and men's and women hair were cut. The acts are considered highly offensive to the Amish, who believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry.

Sam Mullet Sr. was allegedly upset that other Amish bishops were not heeding his orders excommunicating members of his community in Bergholz in eastern Ohio.

The government said in a court filing last week that Sam Mullet, who recently received more than $2 million from gas and oil leases on his property, was able to obtain a public defender by being less than forthcoming about his financial situation.

Prosecutors also say Mullet should not be released on bond because of the possibility he could hole up on his 800-acre property and try to avoid attending his trial.

"The evidence has demonstrated that this defendant and his followers have not embraced the traditional Amish principles on nonviolence and forgiveness," prosecutors said Wednesday. "The possibility of a violent encounter, this time with law enforcement, should not be readily dismissed."

There's no evidence Sam Mullet won't show up for trial, his attorney said Monday.

"They're trying to create this perception he's something he's not," said federal public defender Edward Bryan. "He's not a wacky cult leader. He's a decent, hardworking, caring man."

Sam Mullet will now pay legal fees at $125 an hour, with the money going into a federal fund used to pay fees for those who can't afford a lawyer, Bryan added.

Prosecutors also say Lester Mullet's request to go free before trial should be rejected since he "joyfully" participated in the attacks last fall and said he would do it again, according to a filing on Thursday.

The filing included portions of a transcript of a jailhouse call Lester Mullet made to his father, sister, wife and others, in which the participants laugh about getting half a victim's beard.

"Given what we know about Lester Mullet's role in these attacks and his willingness to obstruct the government's investigation, there is simply no condition or set of conditions that will reasonably assure his attendance at court proceedings or the safety of a community that has been terrorized by this violence," prosecutors said.

Lester Mullet's lawyer said his client has no criminal record and is the sole provider for his family.

Due to his wife's pregnancy, "the difficulties related to Mr. Mullet's incarceration have increased," Damon Billak said in a court filing April 18. "Mr. Mullet is willing to abide by any terms and conditions found to be necessary to support his release from custody."