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Reduced Sentences Unlikely for Amish Beard Cutters

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 21, 2016 6:58 AM

The reclusive world of Ohio's Amish community became a little less reclusive in 2011, after 16 members of a breakaway Amish sect ambushed their neighbors at night, cutting off their beards. The beard cutting was designed to humiliate its victims, excommunicated members of the small Amish community in Bergholz, Ohio.

The ten men and six women behind the attacks were convicted almost four years ago, though the Sixth Circuit reversed their federal hate crimes convictions in 2014, resulting in significantly reduced sentences. On Tuesday, the beard cutters were back before the Sixth Circuit, arguing for even lesser sentences, but this time, reductions seemed much less likely.

From Excommunicated to Debearded

The beard cutters, led by Sam Mullet, performed five attacks over an eight-week period in 2011, ambushing men at night and shearing off their beards. The beard cutting was not just a dispute over the best way to wear one's facial hair, either. The attacks were designed to shame members of the Amish community who had criticized Mullet, the leader of the community. (Excommunication, it seems, wasn't good enough.)

A jury convicted the 16 beard cutters of federal hate crimes violations, among other crimes including unlawful restraint, kidnapping, and conspiracy. Though the charges brought a maximum term of life, Mullet was originally sentenced to 15 years, while the other participants received sentences of half that or less.

In August of 2014, the Sixth Circuit reversed the beard cutters' hate crimes convictions. "When all is said and done, considerable evidence supported the defendants' theory that interpersonal and intra-family disagreements, not the victims' religious beliefs, sparked the attacks," the court wrote.

As a result, Mullet's sentence was reduced to 10 years, nine months, while those receiving seven year sentences had them reduced to five, and those with five year sentences saw them reduced to three years, seven months. The remaining beard cutters had already completed their sentences by that point.

Further Reductions Seem Unlikely

And that's likely where those sentences will stay. In oral arguments on Tuesday, the beard cutters argued that their sentences were unduly harsh and based upon the wrong standards. Those arguments "failed to impress" the Sixth Circuit panel, however, Courthouse News reports.

When the beard cutters argued that imposing a maximum sentence for unlawful restraint was "substantially unreasonable," for example, Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton was unfazed, saying "If unlawful restraint applies here, it applies. What am I missing?"

But, the cuters' fate isn't entirely sealed. Judge Edmund Sargus Jr. and Judge Sutton both expressed concern that the beard cutters hadn't been retried after their hate crime convictions were overturned. (The cutters hadn't been retried as the need to travel to court by horse and buggy would have been unreasonably burdensome to the defendants, the government argued.)

But, that concern was short lived. When the beard cutters' lawyer argued that they only wanted a "fair and complete trial," Judge Sutton was incredulous. "Your client wants to be retried for the hate crime? Some people just can't accept victory."

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