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Amish sect leader sentenced to 15 years for role in beard-cutting attacks

Amy Sancetta / AP file

Samuel Mullet stands outside his home in Bergholz, Ohio, in 2011.

CLEVELAND —An Ohio Amish sect leader was sentenced on Friday to 15 years in federal prison for his leadership role in beard- and hair-cutting attacks on members of other Amish communities in 2011.

Prosecutors had recommended a life sentence for Samuel Mullet Sr., 67, who was convicted of a hate crime in September for orchestrating attacks carried out on six Amish men and two women, though he was not present for any of them.

Fifteen of Mullet's followers in the breakaway Amish sect from Bergholz, Ohio, who were also convicted of multiple counts of conspiracy and kidnapping under federal hate crimes laws received lesser prison sentences on Friday.

"There is no doubt that Mullet wanted, agreed with and encouraged all of these attacks," prosecutors said in a court filing.

Mullet and members of his Bergholz, Ohio, community were convicted of multiple counts under the Federal Hate Crime statute, including conspiracy and kidnapping for attacks prosecutors said were motivated by religious disputes between Mullet and other Amish leaders.

The Amish are known for their plain dress and shunning of technology. Amish women and married Amish men do not cut their hair or beards, because they are symbols of living a religious life.

Victims of the attack testified they were restrained and had their hair forcibly cut using scissors, clippers, shears and battery-operated razors. The followers then brought the beard and head hair back to show Mullet.

Defense attorneys disputed the nature and seriousness of the crimes, arguing that the attacks were a result of personal, not religious, disputes and that the offenses do not deserve the lengthy sentences proposed by the government.

The defense's arguments for leniency included numerous letters from family and business acquaintances telling of the hardships the Bergholz community has endured without the seven adult men during the winter.

One Mullet supporter wrote, "The picture the rest of the world is trying to paint of him is not the Samuel Mullet I know."

An attorney for defendant Lester Miller told the court the defendants' children will be most affected by the loss of their parents -- since sons in Amish communities serve as apprentices to their fathers.

Prosecutors also submitted 14 handwritten letters from members of the Amish community expressing fear for Bergholz community children and supporting a lengthy or life sentence for Mullet.

Nine of the male defendants are currently in prison, while one male and all six female defendants have remained free.