Convicted Ohio Amish leader loses bid for release

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 on Wednesday lost his latest request to be released from prison pending an appeal of his conviction.

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati rejected Samuel Mullet Sr.'s request, ruling that he hasn't proven that he's not a threat to his eastern Ohio Amish community and that the arguments in his appeal at this stage are unlikely to succeed.

Mullet, 67, is serving 15 years in prison stemming from the 2011 attacks, meant to shame fellow Amish accused of straying from strict religious interpretations. Fifteen others convicted in the case were sentenced to between one to seven years in prison.

"(Mullet) is the leader and exercises control over the members of his community," wrote the judges, saying that Mullet could still pose a danger to them.

The judges also found that the legal arguments Mullet will be making in his upcoming appeal "are not likely to result in reversal, a new trial, a sentence that does not include a term of imprisonment, or a sentence less than the total time he has already served."

Mullet's attorney, Edward Bryan, said he expects to file Mullet's appeal within the next couple of months and that the court's ruling Wednesday doesn't necessarily indicate that it will be unlikely to succeed, considering they haven't heard all the arguments.

"I still feel confident that we're going to prevail ultimately, if not before the 6th Circuit then before the Supreme Court of the United States if need be, because Sam Mullet hasn't received the treatment he deserves," Bryan said.

He said it "borders on ludicrous" that Mullet poses a danger to others.

"The government has presented a false narrative that he was this Svengali-like cult leader, and he's not. He never was, he isn't now and he never will be," Bryan said.

Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said in a statement that he's confident "in the legal and factual aspects of this hate crime prosecution."

"We are pleased, but not surprised, that every court that has looked at this matter has agreed with our arguments and our evaluation that Sam Mullet is a dangerous man," Dettelbach said.

Among the arguments expected in Mullet's pending appeal of his conviction are that he and the other Amish were wrongfully prosecuted under the federal hate crime statute, passed in 2009, and that the acts committed amounted to domestic violence with no religious undertones.

In Wednesday's decision, the three-judge panel wrote that the argument was "meritless."

"Here, shears and scissors that had traveled from out of state into Ohio were used as weapons of hate and religious animus," they wrote. "The victims in this situation had their hair and beards cut because of their unwillingness to abide by Mullet's commands as Bishop of the Bergholz Amish community."

Prosecutors argued at trial that the group cut the beards and hair of other members because hair carries spiritual significance, hence the hate crime. The Amish argued that they're bound by rules guided by their religion and the government should never have gotten involved in what amounted to a family or church dispute.

Wednesday's decision is the latest rejection of a string of requests from Mullet to be released.

In April, federal Judge Dan Aaron Polster turned down such a request and dismissed Mullet's complaint at being housed in a federal prison in Texas instead of closer to home; Mullet had argued that his location put 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.
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