Updated Friday, February 8, 2013 at 10:31 PM
CLEVELAND — The leader of a dissident Amish sect was sentenced Friday to 15 years in prison for a series of bizarre beard- and hair-cutting attacks on other Ohio Amish that drew national attention.
Samuel Mullet Sr., 67, the leader, was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Cleveland for coordinating assaults that prosecutors argued were motivated by religious intolerance.
Fifteen followers, including six women, were given lesser sentences, ranging from one year and one day to seven years.
The judge said the defendants had violated the constitutional rights protecting religious practice that had also benefited them as Amish. Authorities had prosecuted the attacks as a hate crime.
Before his sentencing, Mullet told the judge he had been accused of running a cult, which he denied. Mullet, his ankles in chains and a white beard down to midchest, asked to bear the punishment for the attacks: “Let these moms and dads go home to their families, raise their children; I’ll take the punishment for everybody.”
The 10 men and six women were convicted last year in five attacks in Ohio Amish communities in 2011. The government said the attacks were retaliation against Amish who had defied or denounced Mullet’s authoritarian hold over the splinter group he started in 1995.
The case has opened a rare window to the lives of the insular Amish, who shun many facets of modern life and are deeply religious. Amish believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards once they marry.
Cutting it would be shameful and offensive.
“The victims were terrorized and traumatized,” U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster said, noting that the same Constitution that exempts them from jury service and gives them permission to leave school at 14 was turned against the victims. “Each of you has received the benefits of that First Amendment.”
With relatives of victims and his family sitting on opposite sides of the public gallery, Mullet said he has lived his life trying to help others.
“That’s been my goal all my life,” Mullet said. “I’m not going to be here much longer,” he added, without elaborating on any health problems.
The government had asked for a life sentence for Mullet, while the defense asked for two years or less.
The judge said defendants have two weeks to file appeals of their sentences or convictions. Defense attorneys have indicated such appeals are likely.
Rhonda Kotnik, attorney for Kathryn Miller, a 24-year-old mother of three who received a one-year sentence, said appeals would focus on whether the hate-crimes law is unconstitutionally broad and whether restraining the victims to cut their beards amounted to kidnapping.
MICHAEL F MCELROY / The New York Times
Amish members leave the federal courthouse in Cleveland, Ohio, after Samuel Mullet Sr. was sentenced to 15 years for coordinating assaults on other Amish members.
Samuel Mullet Sr. began splinter group in ’95.