© The Associated Press
In this Oct. 19, 2011 file photo, from left: Johnny Mullet, Lester Mullet, Daniel Mullet, Levi Miller and Eli Miller
Cleveland - An Ohio Amish sect leader and 15 of his followers were convicted on Thursday of federal hate crimes in connection with a string of beard- and hair-cutting attacks on other Amish people last autumn that shook the religious community.
Samuel Mullet Sr. and each of his followers were found guilty on multiple charges stemming from attacks on six Amish men and two women, and likely face years in prison.
The jury verdict came on the fifth day of deliberations at a federal courthouse in Cleveland, which at times during the trial was filled with Amish spectators. Some witnesses said they had never been outside the counties of their birth before traveling to Cleveland for the trial.
Prosecutors contended the crimes were motivated by religious disputes between Mullet, 66, the leader of a sect in Bergholz, Ohio, and other Amish religious leaders who had accepted into their communities people Mullet had excommunicated from his.
"This was a crime of violence," U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach told a news conference after the verdicts. "From day one, this case has been about the rule of law and defending the right of people to worship in peace."
Defense attorneys said they would appeal the convictions. The defense called no witnesses, but attorneys had argued the assaults were the result of family or financial disputes and not religious differences, and therefore could not be classified as hate crimes.
Amish women and married Amish men do not cut their hair or beards as symbols of living a religious life. The Amish are known for their plain dress, simple living and shunning of technology.