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The leader of a breakaway Amish sect in Ohio was sentenced to 15 year in prison today for orchestrating the cutting of hair and beards of Amish men and women, a form of religious degradation viewed as punishment, the New York Times reported.
Samuel Mullet Sr. was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, along with 15 of his followers, including six women. Others were given lesser sentences ranging from one year and a day to seven years. All of them were convicted of hate crimes last fall, the first such convictions in Ohio under the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act, which was enacted in 2009.
The convictions stemmed from a series of five attacks between Sept. 6 and Nov. 9, 2011. According to the FBI, the attackers took photographs during the assaults, and buried the disposable camera they used at the base of a tree on Mullet’s property.
As the Times reported, the Amish view their long beards and flowing women’s hair as symbols of “religious devotion and cultural identity.” Prosecutors, who had asked for life sentences, argued that the assaults were hate crimes due to the religious nature of the attacks.
While Mullet, 67, did not appear to participate in any of the attacks, the trial did much to expose the workings of an Amish sect under his authoritarian rule as the group’s leader. According to prosecutors, he frequently punished his followers by confining them to “sleep for days at a time” in chicken coops and “had been counseling the married women in [the sect] and taking them into his home so that he may cleanse them of the devil with acts of sexual intimacy.”
Mullet, who spoke in court before the sentencing hearing, said he was falsely being blamed as a cult leader –– a charge he denies –– but asked that he be given the punishment for all the defendants.
“If somebody needs to be punished, I’ll take the punishment for everybody,” Mullet said according to WKYC-TV in Cleveland. “Let these mothers and fathers go home to their families, raise their children.”