Sixteen Amish men and women convicted of federal hate crimes for chopping off the hair and beards of fellow followers of the Amish faith had their convictions overturned by an Ohio appeals court.
The series of attacks, led by the aptly named Samuel Mullet Sr., were charged as hate crimes by federal prosecutors in 2012, resulting in a 15-year sentence for Mullet and lesser sentences for 15 of his followers, eight of whom still remain in prison, reports The New York Times.
What was behind these bizarre hair attacks and why did the court overturn the defendants' hate crime convictions?
Attacks Were Intended to Humiliate Victims
The 2011 attacks in which Mullet's followers ambushed members of a rival sect and cut off the beards of men and the hair of women were considered especially degrading to victims; the Amish faith places special significance on facial hair for men and long hair for women.
Despite being members of the same faith, the 16 men accused of taking part in the attacks were charged with federal hate crimes for the attacks, due to the religious motivation behind the attacks and the targeting of members of a specific religion. All 16 were convicted, including Mullet, who didn't participate in the attacks himself but was found to be the mastermind behind them.
Jury Instructions Improper
A federal appeals court panel ruled Wednesday that the judge in the original trial had improperly instructed the jury on application of federal hate crimes law. In that trial, the judge told that jury that the victims' religion must only be a "significant factor" motivating the defendants' crimes. The proper standard, the panel ruled in a 2-1 decision, is that the religion of the victim must be the predominant motivation for the defendants acts.
Mullet remains in prison, along with eight of his followers, pending a decision by federal prosecutors whether to retry the defendants on the other criminal charges for which they were indicted. In addition, Mullet's conviction of obstruction of justice was not affected by the appeals court ruling.
You might say this appeal was splitting hairs, and we hope that Mullet appreciates the pun as he ponders his legal fate.
- Hate crime convictions overturned in Amish hair-cutting attacks (CNN)
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- 8 Amish Jailed, Refused to Put Orange Triangles on Buggies (FindLaw's Legally Weird)