Samuel Mullet Sr., 66, is a violent man. Despite faith, community, and God, he felt a kind of hate; taking great umbrage at disagreements within his sect, particularly religious disagreements. When the dissidents with whom he disagreed were unbowed, the punishments he handed down were harsh and swift. He commanded 15 men and women of his flock (all but one of whom is a relative) to break and enter, assault, restrain, drug, photograph, and, ultimately, hack off the beards and hair of their victims with horse clipping tools or battery-powered clippers. The spree went on throughout 2011 and terrorized the Amish communities in the eastern Ohio area who were certain an outsider was targeting their enclaves.
Arrested in November of 2011, on trial by late August 2012, and found guilty on September 20, 2012, Mullet was sentenced on Friday, February 8th, 2013, to 15 years in prison for masterminding the bizarre and violent crimes. Shorter sentences were handed down to fifteen of his accomplices (which included six women), ranging from one year, to one day, to seven years for their participation in the attacks.
The crime spree attracted worldwide attention as curiosity about the private and very small sect of the Amish community was piqued. Investigations into the crimes were conducted as the trial unfolded, accruing a litany of offenses that shocked and stunned those following the story.
Federal authorities say the attacks last fall were motivated by revenge after a group of Amish bishops refused to accept Mullet’s excommunication of eight families who had left his community years ago because they disagreed with his authoritarian leadership. Prosecutors said nine people were attacked.
Mullet, an Amish bishop from Bergholz in Jefferson County, is accused of orchestrating the attacks, though he himself did not cut anyone’s hair, because of what prosecutors said were religious disagreements with other Amish bishops. His attorney, Edward Bryan, said Mullet had nothing to do with the attacks.
Bryan and other defense attorneys have sought to keep evidence of Mullet’s sexual activities with members of his community out of the trial. Prosecutors said Mullet’s sex with women in his community “establishes the extent of defendant Mullet’s control over the community.”
In a scenario framed as “similar” to other cult crimes, particularly the Charles Manson case where the leader ordered the crimes but never actually participated in them, Samuel Mullet Sr. was characterized as the group’s spiritual leader. His word was the final word: he was the one who made decisions, inflicted corporal punishment, and locked men in chicken coops for looking at non-Amish women. He even “cleansed the devil” from married women of the sect by forcing sexual intimacy (which was his status at the time of his arrest). Witnesses say he is domineering, arrogant, and threatening.
Mullet knew exactly what the impact of his punishment choice would be for the “apostates.” This sect of Amish are descendants of 18th-century German-language immigrants who see men’s unique mustache-less beards and the long hair of women as symbols of their religious devotion and cultural identity. Because of that specific distinction, the religious persecution aspect was upheld in court, allowing the prosecutors to define the crimes perpetrated as “hate crimes.”
Throughout the trial, and beyond the reported acts of abuse and violence, other controversial elements of Mullet’s life were revealed that raised the hackles of many. For example, while he was ruled indigent at the beginning of the trial, with his defense provided by the state’s taxpayers, it was later learned he had substantial resources.
Previously ruled indigent, Samuel Mullet Sr. received about $2 million in early March by leasing the rights to his 800-acre farm in Bergholz and will now have to foot the bill for his public defender should he choose to keep him, the judge ruled Monday. He is free to retain private counsel, should he choose to do so.
The proceeds from the lease allowed Mullet to “free the farm of all outstanding debt and mortgages,” court documents said.
Because of his newfound wealth, Mullet must pay the public defender twice his normal government subsidized rate, or $250 per hour, a court order signed by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster said. Mullet, who is the bishop of the Amish community in Bergholz, also was ordered to pay an hourly rate of $125 for legal work performed before the ruling was made.
Throughout the trial Mullet maintained his innocence, even stating at one point:
“You have your laws on the road and the town — if somebody doesn’t obey them, you punish them. But I’m not allowed to punish the church people?” [Source]
He denied allegations that he was running a cult and asserted that he and his community had nothing to hide, even commenting mockingly:
“Beard-cutting is a crime, is it?” [Source]
It turns out that the judge and jury thought it was. On February 8, 2013, Mullet learned that his acts of violent retribution were very much seen as a crime: a crime that earned him fifteen years in prison. At the sentencing hearing the defendants traded moments of desperation and sacrifice; followers asking to take some or all of Mullet’s sentence, Mullet stating in return he would take the punishment for all of them. The judge took no heed.
Defense attorneys’ assertions that the Amish have different views of life, don’t understand the criminal justice system, and are now being “ripped apart” by the sentencing of parents with children, did not elicit any particular sympathy from the jury, the judge, or the prosecuting attorneys.
From The New York Times:
…In passing sentence Judge Dan Aaron Polster told Mr. Mullet and his co-defendants that they were being punished for depriving victims of a constitutional right, religious freedom, whose fruits they enjoyed themselves as Amish through exemptions from jury service and other laws.
“Each of you has received the benefits of that First Amendment,” Judge Polster said. […]
In handing Mr. Mullet 15 years, Judge Polster said he oversaw his flock with “an iron hand” and that he was “a danger to the community.”
While most would agree with that assessment, allegiance to Mullet held string within his own community of 135. Much like the Manson followers who stood by Charlie throughout his trial, those who subscribe to Mullet’s leadership stood by him and have vowed to continue doing so in their mandated isolation from other Amish adherents. It remains to be seen if that loyalty can withstand the long-term distance and detachment from their leader, who will be gone for a very long time.