Amish in court over haircut attacks

 

Sixteen men and women pleaded not guilty in beard- and hair-cutting attacks against fellow Amish in the US state of Ohio.

A feud over church discipline allegedly led to attacks in which the beards and hair of men and hair of women were cut, considered deeply offensive in Amish culture.

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

The defendants and their lawyers overflowed defence tables and the jury box as they entered the pleas before US District Court Judge Dan Polster in response to an updated indictment.

The latest indictment added new allegations that the suspects tried to hide or destroy evidence, including a disposable camera, shears and a bag of hair from the victims.

Members of the Amish community who were in court left through a rear enclosed walkway without speaking.

The judge said he would keep the schedule set after the first indictment - a July 30 deadline for any plea change and August 27 trial.

Joseph Dubyak, attorney Linda Schrock, daughter of alleged ringleader Samuel Mullet Sr, said the related extended families are helping each other during the busy planting season with seven defendants still held on bond.

The updated indictment also charges Mullet with lying to federal agents during their investigation by denying knowledge of an October assault.

The new defendants, Lovina Miller, Kathryn Miller, Emma Miller and Elizabeth Miller, are members of the Amish community in Bergholz in eastern Ohio near Steubenville and are married to some of Mullet's nephews, according to the updated indictment filed in late March.

The 10-count indictment includes charges of conspiracy, assault and evidence tampering in what prosecutors said were hate crimes motivated by religious differences.

The new charges also allege defendants used a disposable camera to take pictures of the victims, then hid the camera from authorities until eventually turning it over on March 16.

Several members of the group living in Bergholz carried out the attacks in September, October and November by forcibly cutting the beards and hair of Amish men and women and then taking photos to shame them, authorities have said.

Mullet said 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 Amish that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating Mullet and his community.

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.

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