12 charged over Amish race hate crimes

 

Twelve members of a breakaway Amish group have been charged with hate crimes following beard-cutting attacks on fellow sect members in eastern Ohio.

The seven-count indictment against Samuel Mullet and 11 relatives or members of his group include charges of conspiracy, assault and evidence tampering in what prosecutors say were hate crimes motivated by religious differences.

The five attacks between September and November involved cutting women's hair and men's beards and hair - considered deeply offensive in Amish culture.

The indictment also charges four of Mullet's children, a son-in-law, three nephews, the spouses of a niece and nephew and a member of the Mullet community.

Mullet and six of the suspects have been in custody since their arrests in FBI raids on November 23 at the Mullet compound.

The five new suspects would be issued summonses to appear in court, said US attorney's spokesman Mike Tobin.

The indictment also mentions a pair of previously unreported assaults. It says that on September 24, at the home of one of the defendants, another provided an unnamed victim with a cup of coffee "laced with an over-the-counter product" intended to sicken the victim. It did not specify which product was used.

It also says that on the same day, three of the defendants and others enticed the victim to take a walk around the property, then restrained him and cut off his beard and hair with scissors.

Mullet said in October that he did not order the hair-cutting but did not stop his sons and others from carrying it out. He said the goal was to send a message to other Amishthat they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating Mullet and his community.

The others charged previously are Mullet's sons Johnny, Daniel and Lester; son-in-law Emanuel Schrock; nephew Eli Miller; and community member Levi Miller.

Newly charged are Mullet's daughter Linda Schrock; nephews Lester and Raymond Miller; Anna Miller, the wife of another nephew; and a niece's husband, Freeman Burkholder.

An FBI affidavit said three of Mullet's sons and a nephew and another community member had confessed in early October to taking part in at least a couple of the attacks.

Several members of the group carried out the attacks by forcibly cutting the beards and hair of Amish men and women and then taking photos of them, authorities said.

The Amish believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry.

Amish often mete out their own internal punishment and rarely report crimes to police. Some beard-cutting victims declined to press charges earlier.

The dispute with Amish bishops stemmed from Mullet's desire to excommunicate several members, the FBI said. Other bishops concluded the excommunications were not consistent with Amish teachings and scripture and decided not to recognise the penalties.

Ohio has an estimated Amish population of just under 61,000 - second only to Pennsylvania - with most living in rural counties south and east of Cleveland.

:: A man cleaning his muzzle-loading rifle shot the gun into the air, accidentally killing a 15-year-old Amish girl driving a horse-drawn buggy more than a mile away, a sheriff said.

Rachel Yoder was shot in the head last Thursday night while returning to her home after a Christmas party for employees at an Amish produce farm.

The buggy continued to carry the girl after she was shot and she fell out near her home, Holmes County sheriff Timothy Zimmerly said.

Her brother found her after he saw the horse walking in circles. Authorities initially believed she had fallen out of the buggy and hit her head until a hospital test revealed the gunshot wound.

Sheriff Zimmerly said the gun-cleaner's family came forward and his neighbours reported hearing a shot at about the time the girl was wounded. Investigators were checking the rifle for a ballistics match.

"In all probability, it looks like an accidental shooting," the sheriff said.

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