CINCINNATI (AP) — The leader of 16 Ohio Amish men and women found guilty of hate crimes for cutting the hair and beards of fellow members of their faith is arguing in a new court filing that federal prosecutors are assassinating his character in the face of weak evidence.
Samuel Mullet Jr.'s attorneys argue in the Monday filing that the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati should reject a request from prosecutors to uphold his conviction and 15-year prison sentence.
Mullet's appellate attorneys criticized the government's 64-page request as hyperbole and are asking the 6th Circuit to throw out Mullet's conviction and sentence.
The court could rule at any time. Mullet, 68, is serving his sentence in federal prison in Texarkana, Texas.
"Faced with weak evidence against Samuel Mullet, the government continues its character assassination, maligning Samuel as a deviant 'unquestioned,' 'self-appointed' and 'all-powerful leader,'" attorney Wendi Overmyer wrote in Monday's filing. "Even if the government's exaggerations were true, all defendants, no matter their conduct, are guaranteed constitutional protections and are to receive correct application of the law."
Overmyer argues that the government overstepped its bounds in prosecuting Mullet and that the hair- and beard-cuttings did not amount to hate crimes, but were family disputes that resulted in no serious physical injury.
The convictions stem from five attacks in Ohio Amish communities over the course of three months in 2011 in what prosecutors describe as apparent retaliation against members who had defied or denounced Mullet's authoritarian style in the insular community, which shuns many facets of modern life and is deeply religious.
"The victims were not chosen because they were Amish; rather, the victims and the defendants both happen to be Amish," Overmyer wrote. "The incidents were not based in anti-Amish bias. Most hate crime victims are complete strangers to the perpetrators, but targeted solely due to hatred of the victim's protected status, such as race or sexual identity."
Prosecutors argue that the hair- and beard-cutting amounted to ritualistic violence based on religion and were designed to shame fellow Amish accused of straying from strict religious interpretations.
"The victims were devastated and physically injured, and the assaults injected terror and anxiety into a community that awaited the next nighttime assault," prosecutors wrote in a Feb. 28 filing with the 6th Circuit.
Mullet's attorneys also criticized a federal judge's decision to allow testimony at trial that Mullet directed his daughter-in-law to have sex with him for religious reasons. They say the 2008 sexual conduct was unrelated to the 2011 hair-cutting incidents and had a highly prejudicial effect on jurors.
Prosecutors argue that the judge properly allowed the testimony, saying it showed jurors the high level of the control that Mullet exerted over his community's members.