Jurors should be allowed to hear about alleged sexual ‘counseling’ of Amish wives by a man charged with masterminding beard and hair-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in Ohio, prosecutors told a federal judge on Friday.
They outlined the strategy in a legal brief in the case of 16 Amish defendants facing trial on August 27 in Cleveland before U.S. District Court Judge Dan Aaron Polster.
The government brief said alleged sexual ‘counseling’ of wives by alleged ringleader, during which he had sex with in community, ‘establishes the extent of defendant Mullet’s control over the community’.
‘His ability to convince those women, as well as their husbands and parents, to permit him to do so, establishes the extent of defendant Mullet’s control over the community,’ the government said.
Based on that, the government said, the jury can conclude that Mullet was aware of last year’s attacks and approved.
In addition to the sexual conduct issues, alleged paddling rituals and punishing members by sending them to a chicken coop ‘are not inflammatory; they are undisputed facts’ that the jury should hear, the government said.
Defense attorneys argued in earlier briefs that there is no proof of such sexual conduct and said mentioning it at trial would be prejudicial. They also asked the judge to bar any reference to the chicken coop punishment or ‘self-deprivation’ such as cold showers or sleeping on boards.
The recent bizarre attacks have thrust this ferociously private community into the spotlight, with horror stories emerging of rape, beatings, brainwashing and kidnapping.
A former member who did not want to be named spoke out earlier this year about what was happening in the cult, saying: ‘He would take the wife from the man. The wife would have to go and live with Sam. The husband of that wife would have to go to the chicken coop or out in the barn in the middle of the winter, sometimes day and night.’
One of the woman, whose husband Myron Miller had his beard cut off by the gang earlier this month, said she heard many stories about the ‘brainwashing, the beatings, the locking up, and the women he is using’.
In court: A number of Amish men and women pleaded not guilty at a hearing in Cleveland earlier this month
The sexual conduct issues would bias the jury and lead to a ‘trial within a trial’ unrelated to the charges, the defense said.
Cutting the beards and hair of men and hair of women would be considered deeply offensive in Amish culture. The Amish believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to stop shaving once they marry.
Mullet previously said he didn’t order the hair-cutting but didn’t stop his sons and others from carrying it out. He said the goal was to send a message to other Amish that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating him and his community.
‘They changed the rulings of our church here, and they’re trying to force their way down our throat, make us do like they want us to do, and we’re not going to do that,’ Mullet said late last year.
The government said victims were attacked because they ‘lawfully expressed their disagreement with the practices in the Bergholz community’ by leaving, by urging relatives to do likewise and by defying Mullet’s rulings on religious issues.
The defendants face charges including conspiracy, assault and evidence tampering in what prosecutors said were hate crimes motivated by religious differences.
Members of the group living in Bergholz carried out the attacks in September, October and November by forcibly cutting the beards and hair of Amish men and women and then taking photos to shame them, authorities have said.
The defendants say the attacks were internal church disciplinary matters not involving anti-Amish bias. They have pleaded not guilty and rejected plea bargains that offered leniency.