CINCINNATI - The leader of a group of 16 Amish men and women found guilty of hate crimes for cutting the hair and beards of fellow members of their faith lost his request Tuesday to be released from prison while he appeals his conviction and sentencing.
Federal Judge Dan Aaron Polster ruled that Samuel Mullet Sr. still poses a threat to his Amish community because of his leadership power within it and that arguments in his forthcoming appeal do not raise substantial questions of law.
Mullet is serving 15 years in prison stemming from the 2011 eastern Ohio attacks, which were meant to shame fellow Amish accused of straying from strict religious interpretations. Fifteen others convicted in the case were sentenced to one to seven years in prison.
In his ruling Tuesday, Polster quoted himself from Mullet's February sentencing hearing in explaining why he thinks Mullet poses a danger to his followers.
"They listen to you. They respect you," Polster said. "And they follow what you say or what they think you want them to do, and I think they would do it today."
Polster also dismissed Mullet's complaint at being housed in a federal prison in Texas instead of closer to home, saying that puts an overly harsh burden on his family should they want to visit him. In accordance with their beliefs, the Amish do not travel by plane and have to hire drivers for car travel.
Polster ruled that where Mullet is housed "is completely irrelevant to the question whether he should be released" and said that the Bureau of Prisons is in the best position of balancing housing and safety concerns for all of the country's federal inmates.
Polster also said one of Mullet's other arguments for release isn't new.
Defense attorneys are attacking the group's prosecution under the federal hate crime statute, passed in 2009. The statute stipulates that to constitute a federal violation, the crime has to involve crossing state lines or using "an instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce."
In this case, government prosecutors successfully argued that the scissors and hair clippers used in the attacks were an instrumentality of interstate commerce.
That's an abuse of federal power and is unconstitutional, the defense attorneys argued.
Attorneys brought up the issue before trial as they challenged the indictment and after the Amish were convicted in an effort to get them released from custody pending sentencing.
While Polster ruled that he did not believe the law had changed, Mullet's attorney, Edward Bryan, pointed to last year's landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on the federal health care law, a ruling that cited Congress' power over interstate commerce.
Bryan said that case, decided after the Amish were indicted, shows a willingness by the nation's highest court to narrow Congress' authority over interstate commerce, and could lead to a reversal of the Amish group's convictions.