An Ohio appeals court has overturned the hate-crime convictions of a rogue Amish group convicted in a series of beard-cutting attacks. The group is now entitled to new trials.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati agreed Wednesday with attorneys for the Amish, who have been in jail since 2013. It said the jury's instructions on how to weigh the role of religion in the attacks were unclear.
Since the jury instructions are now ruled as incorrect, all 16 defendants have the right to a whole new trial.
The court wrote:
No one questions that the assaults occurred, and only a few defendants question their participation in them. The central issue at trial was whether the defendants committed the assaults "because of" the religion of the victims. 18 U.S.C. § 249(a)(2)(A). In instructing the jury on this point, the district court rejected the defendants' proposed instruction (that the faith of the victims must be a "but for" cause of the assaults) and adopted the government's proposed instruction (that the faith of the victims must be a "significant factor" in motivating the assaults).
Not everyone is on board with the ruling.
Statement from U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach:
We respectfully disagree with the two judges who reversed the defendants' hate crime convictions based on a jury instruction. We remain in awe of the courage of the victims in this case, who were subject to violent attacks by the defendants. We are reviewing the opinion and considering our options.
This does not mean Mullet and his co-defendants are immediately released from prison. It means the government will have to try them all over. However, they are allowed to apply for bond.
Amish beard bandit leader Sam Mullet, leader of the Bergholz community, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. A total of 15 other members of Mullet's group got a lesser prison sentence of one to seven years behind bars.
They were convicted of terrorizing an Amish community for months.
The vicious attacks happened in Jefferson, Trumbull, Holmes and Carroll counties back in 2011. Prosecutors say Sam Mullet ordered the violent haircuts. The attacks were meant to humiliate and punish the people Mullet did not believe are faithful enough.
The rogue group forcibly restrained multiple Amish men and cut off their beards and head hair with scissors and battery-powered clippers, causing bodily injury to these men while also injuring others who attempted to stop the attacks. In the Amish religion, a man's beard is considered sacred.