CLEVELAND — Sixteen members of a schismatic Amish group were convicted Thursday of federal hate crimes in a series of attacks that included cutting the beards and hair of fellow sect members.
A jury of seven men and five women deliberated for four days before convicting Samuel Mullet Sr., 66, of orchestrating at least five attacks in 2011 on other Amish, members of a pacifist religion noted for their plain dress and their reluctance to embrace modern technology.
Four of Mullet's children were among those convicted of carrying out the attacks ordered by their father. All face prison terms of 10 years or more on charges that also included conspiracy, evidence tampering and obstruction of justice. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 24.
The defendants were known as the Bergholz Amish, a group of about 20 families who lived on an 880-acre farm in Bergholz, in Ohio's Jefferson County. Mullet, the charismatic leader of the group, ordered the cutting of men's beards and women's hair as punishments designed to force others into more traditional ways, according to prosecutors.
Defense lawyers called no witnesses during the trial, but argued the cuttings were not hate-related; that they were out of love and designed to save other Amish from their ways.
Beards and long hair are considered symbols of the Amish devotion to God, a key criterion that elevated the cuttings from simple assaults to hate crimes. Thursday's convictions were the first in Ohio under a 2009 law that expanded the federal government's ability to prosecute hate crimes.
At a televised news conference after the verdict was returned, officials said the case was an important application of anti-hate laws and rejected claims that Mullet and his followers had been singled out for their religious beliefs.
All of the victims, prosecutors said, were people who disagreed with Mullet.