Ohio Amish say not guilty in beard-cutting attacks

Twelve members of a breakaway Amish group pleaded not guilty Wednesday to beard- and hair-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in a feud over church discipline.

The seven original defendants arrested in November and five more added in an indictment returned last month entered the pleas in the crowded federal courtroom.

U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster refused a defense appeal to release on bond the suspected ringleader, Samuel Mullet Sr., 66, and his son, Johnny Mullet, 37, both of Bergholz, near Steubenville in eastern Ohio.

A feud over church discipline allegedly led to five attacks in which the beards and hair of men and hair of women were cut, which is considered deeply offensive in Amish culture.

The seven-count indictment includes charges of conspiracy, assault and evidence tampering in what prosecutors say were hate crimes motivated by religious differences.

Samuel Mullet Sr., handcuffed at the wrists and ankles, his beard reaching the V-neck of his orange jail outfit, watched from the jury box and nodded occasionally as his attorney, Ed Bryan, argued that Mullet wasn't a risk of violence or flight.

He said Mullet should be freed pending trial because he has no criminal record and has ties to the community, including scores of grandchildren.

Any suggestion that Mullet could be violent or flee "is not a legitimate fear," Bryan said.

The government said in a court filing before the arraignment that Mullet could not be trusted to appear in court when ordered and sending officers to his farm compound to get him could lead to "the risk of tragic consequences."

Because the compound doesn't have electricity, release with electronic monitoring wasn't an option, the judge said.

He set a March 19 trial date.

Women dressed in traditional Amish apparel and bonnets filled several benches in the courtroom. One wiped away tears after the arraignment and another turned aside an interview request.

The indictment also charges three other children of Mullet, a son-in-law, three nephews, the spouses of a niece and nephew and a member of the Mullet community in Bergholz.

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.

The others charged before the indictment was returned were Mullet's sons Daniel and Lester Mullet; son-in-law Emanuel Schrock; nephew Eli Miller; and community member Levi Miller.

Newly charged in the indictment were Mullet's daughter Linda Schrock; nephews Lester and Raymond Miller; Anna Miller, the wife of another nephew; and a niece's husband, Freeman Burkholder.

Cutting the hair is a highly offensive act 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.

Amish often mete out their own internal punishment and rarely report crimes to law enforcement. Some beard-cutting victims declined to press charges earlier.

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