Friday, 12 April 2013

Amish gather before prison terms begin: 16 sentenced to hate crimes

Amish gather before prison terms begin: 16 sentenced to hate crimes, Amish children celebrating the end of the school year had little to cheer about during a recent celebration. Typically held in late April, the school year was cut short as individuals from the Bergholz, Ohio Amish are losing some of their elders to federal prison.

An April 11 Yahoo! News exclusive carried an Associated Press inside look at the celebration and upcoming departure of seven more members of the close knit community.

A total of 16 Amish men and women from the rural Ohio community were found guilty of hate crime convictions for hair- and beard-cutting attacks against fellow Amish.

"It's a happy day on the outside, but not on the inside. On the inside, a lot of times we're crying, but we have to keep our spirits up for the children's sake," said Martha Mullet, whose husband, Sam, is already serving a 15-year sentence in federal prison.

Martha Mullet said she believes the government is trying to split up their insular community, and says her husband has been unfairly targeted. Sam Mullet received the longest prison term of the 16 members.

Those who were attacked in the hate crimes allege Sam led the group in authoritarian style. One victim described the sect within the community as “a cult where members' minds were programmed in the wrong way by Sam Mullet.”

Amish shun many aspects of modern life and related technology. A deeply religious group, they feel the Bible instructs women to allow their hair to grow long. For a man, once they marry, they are forbidden to shave their beard. To do so would be dishonorable and offensive.

Prosecutors focused in on their belief system, calling the attacks a hate crime brought on by religious differences.

The defendants do not deny the hair-cuttings, and while some said they regretted their actions, all say the actions stemmed from family disputes that should have been handled internally. Bound by different rules directed by their religious principles, they say the government’s determination of a hate crime was overreaching and improper.

“We're not exactly saying it was wrong, and we don't say it's right, either. It's something that will never happen again, I can tell you that," Wilma Mullet, a daughter of Sam Mullet, who was not charged in the attacks.

All 16 defendants appealed, arguing the imprisonment constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

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