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Members of an Amish church group are due to appear in a Cleveland federal court on Friday. They're to be sentenced for committing hate crimes against other Amish. A jury convicted the 16 parishioners last fall of forcibly shearing the beards and long hair of their perceived enemies in an effort to shame them. The sons and nephews of an Amish clergyman would jump their victims, hold them down and cut their hair roughly with electric clippers and horse mane scissors. From member station WCPN, David C. Barnett reports.
DAVID C. BARNETT, BYLINE: Like many brides, Lizzie Miller will never forget her wedding day. It took place last Thanksgiving, and her father conducted the ceremony.
LIZZIE MILLER: I didn't want anybody else to perform the marriage.
BARNETT: But unlike most brides, Lizzie Miller had to travel to a federal prison in Youngstown, Ohio, to speak her vows. That's where her father, Amish Bishop Samuel Mullet, is awaiting sentencing on conspiracy charges.
MILLER: It was the most bittersweet thing that I've ever experienced.
BARNETT: Miller is Mullet's youngest daughter, one of nearly 140 church members who live in an isolated farming community in the eastern Ohio town of Bergholz. The 67-year-old Amish elder was largely silent during the trial as witnesses testified to being terrorized by the hair-cutting attacks carried out by members of the Bergholz group. Beards on men and long hair on women carry great religious symbolism among the Amish, and although Samuel Mullet was never accused of participating in the assaults, federal prosecutors say he was the mastermind. Lizzie Miller and her family are now braced for a range of sentencing possibilities.
MILLER: We are expecting anywhere from bond to life.
BARNETT: Ohio is home to the nation's largest Amish population, and the spectacle of this reclusive group on trial in a federal courtroom attracted international attention. All along, Mullet and his followers claimed that the attacks stemmed from an internal dispute that got out of hand. The defense has asked the judge for leniency, arguing that the victims weren't seriously injured. Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Entin doesn't think the judge will buy that argument.
JONATHAN ENTIN: I mean it's hard to just say, well, this was just a conflict within the group, and we should let it pass. Something really bad happened here, and whatever the appropriate criminal sentence ought to be, it's hard to say we should just look the other way.
BARNETT: Entin notes that since the assaults involved forcible restraint of the victims, federal sentencing guidelines give the judge a great deal of discretion in determining the appropriate punishment. Despite the unusual nature of this case, Ohio State University legal scholar Douglas Berman thinks it probably will set an important precedent.
DOUGLAS BERMAN: No matter how insular your community, no matter how unique the kind of criminal activity is within that community, the federal government has a strong interest and will go to court to protect that interest in applying national laws.
BARNETT: Sam Mullet and eight of his co-conspirators are being held in Youngstown. The rest, including six women, are out on bail so that they can attend to their families and work back in Bergholz.
(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION)
BARNETT: As her teenage nephew hammers a hook into a barn wall, Lizzie Miller says that the young ones have stepped up to handle the daily chores of the missing men, although everyone knows that even behind bars, her father is still in charge.
MILLER: Because he's still the leader. He's still dad. He's still the bishop.
BARNETT: And no matter what the judge decides on Friday, Miller says she hasn't lost faith in Sam Mullet. For NPR News, I'm David C. Barnett in Cleveland.