Sixteen people were sentenced to prison today for hate crimes arising out of a series of religiously-motivated assaults on practitioners of the Amish religion, announced Thomas E. Perez, the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division; Steven M. Dettelbach, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio; and Stephen Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI – Cleveland Field Office.
The defendants all reside in Bergholz, Ohio, unless otherwise noted. Samuel Mullet, 67, received a 15 year sentence. Johnny S. Mullet, 39; Lester Mullet, 28, of Hammondsville, Ohio; Levi F. Miller, 54; and Eli M. Miller, 33, received seven year sentences. Daniel S. Mullet, 38; Lester Miller, 38; and Emanuel Schrock, 44, received five year sentences. Raymond Miller, 28, of Irondale, Ohio; and Linda Shrock, 45, both received two year sentences. Freeman Burkholder, 32, of Irondale; Anna Miller, 33; Elizabeth A. Miller, 38, of Irondale; Emma J. Miller, 38; Kathryn Miller, 23, of Irondale; and Lovina Miller, 33, all received a sentence of one year and one day.
A jury found the defendants guilty last September following a lengthy trial. The convictions stem from five separate assaults that occurred in four Ohio counties between September and November 2011. In each assault, defendants forcibly removed beard and head hair from practitioners of the Amish faith with whom they had ongoing religious disputes.
The manner in which Amish men wear their beards and Amish women wear their hair are symbols of their faith, according to trial testimony.
Samuel Mullet Sr., Johnny S. Mullet, Daniel S. Mullet, Lester S. Mullet, Levi F. Miller, Eli M. Miller, Emanuel Shrock, Lester Miller, Raymond Miller, Freeman Burkholder, Anna Miller and Linda Shrock were convicted of conspiracy to violate Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 249, also known as the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which prohibits any person from willfully causing bodily injury to any person, or attempting to do so by use of a dangerous weapon, because of the actual or perceived religion of that person, and Title 18, United States Code, Section 1512, which prohibits obstruction of justice, including witness tampering and the destruction or concealment of evidence.
The jury also convicted various groups of defendants with separate assaults, and Samuel Mullet Sr. and Lester Mullet with concealing or attempting to conceal various items of tangible evidence, including a camera and photographs of the attacks.
Samuel Mullet Sr. is the Bishop of the Amish community in Bergholz, while the remaining defendants are all members of that community. Mullet Sr. exerted control over the Bergholz community by taking the wives of other men into his home, and by overseeing various means of disciplining community members, including corporal punishment, according to trial testimony.
As a result of religious disputes with other members of the Ohio Amish community, the defendants planned and carried out a series of assaults on their perceived religious enemies. The assaults involved the use of hired drivers, either by the defendants or the alleged victims, because practitioners of the Amish religion do not operate motor vehicles. The assaults all entailed using scissors and battery-powered clippers to forcibly cut or shave the beard hair of the male victims and the head hair of the female victims, according to trial testimony.
During each assault, the defendants restrained and held down the victims. During some of the assaults, the defendants injured individuals who attempted to intervene to protect or rescue the victims. Following the attacks, some of the defendants participated in discussions about concealing photographs and other evidence of the assaults, according to evidence presented at trial.
“From the time of its founding as a nation, the United States of America has always been a beacon for those who seek religious freedom,” said Assistant Attorney General Perez. “The Department of Justice and the Civil Rights Division will vigorously defend every American’s right to worship in the manner of their choosing, including the members of the defendants’ community. However, violent assaults are not a form of religious expression. The actions of the defendants were designed to terrorize the victims, desecrate sacred symbols of their faith, and interfere with their right to worship. These prosecutions reflect the fact that the Department of Justice will not tolerate religiously motivated violence.”
“From day one, this case has been about the rule of law and defending the right of people to worship in peace. This was never about ‘haircuts.’ These were violent, religiously motivated home invasions that left the victims bloody, bruised and beaten,” said U.S. Attorney Dettlebach. “Our nation was founded on the bedrock principle that everyone is free to worship how they see fit. Violent attempts to attack this most basic freedom have no place in our country.”
“This case is an excellent example of cooperation between the many law enforcement agencies that investigated these crimes, along with the prosecution team from the United States Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Anthony. “The FBI is committed to investigating hate crimes, including those perpetrated against people motivated by bias toward religion as in this case, or other areas protected by our civil rights statutes.”
This case was investigated by the Cleveland Division of the FBI and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Getz and Bridget M. Brennan of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio and Deputy Chief Kristy Parker of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section. The prosecutor’s and sheriff’s offices from Holmes, Carroll, Jefferson and Trumbull counties also provided significant assistance in the investigation and prosecution of this case.