67-year-old Amish bishop, Sam Mullet, has a fitting last name, it seems. It coincides with his apparent fixation with the hair of his enemies, the subject of his most recent plea. Mullet led a breakaway sect of an Amish community made up of eighteen families in the village of Bergholz, about 100 miles southeast of Cleveland. They were convicted of several crimes in September 2012 for carrying out five raids the previous year during which Mullet and his followers summoned five victims out of bed and chopped off their beards and hair with horse mane shears and battery-powered clippers. The attackers then documented their feats with a disposable camera. The beards of Amish men and the hair of Amish women have spiritual significance.
Ultimately, prosecutors brought hate crime and obstruction charges against sixteen members of the Amish community. However, Mullet insisted on at least taking the majority of fall for his beloved community and was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, to fifteen years in federal prison for instigating the series of attacks. Polster, nominated for appointment by President Clinton, has gained a lot of attention as of late for his involvement in discussions related to the nation’s opioid crisis.
Polster said, “Each and every one of you did more than terrorize, traumatize and disfigure the victims. You trampled on the Constitution.” Mullet responded to this by indicating, “I’m an old man and not long for this world. If somebody needs to be blamed for this, and I’m a cult leader, I’m willing to take the blame for everybody.” While his decision may have appeared commendable to community members, he later appealed the decision twice.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the hate crime convictions, citing insufficient jury instructions. Polster had told the jury that the religion of the victims must be only one “significant factor” among others motivating the assaults. However, the appeals court ruled that the judge should have told jurors that, for the attacks to be considered a hate crime, the religion of the victim must be the predominant motivating factor, and that the evidence presented didn’t support this.
Polster then re-sentenced all members to shorter sentences in March 2015 and reduced Mullet’s sentence from 15 years to 10 years, nine months in federal prison. The 6th Circuit rejected Mullet’s appeal in May 2016 and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up his case in February of this year.
Most recently, Mullet submitted a plea asking that his sentence be vacated due to ineffective counsel. The bishop argued that his former attorney, a public defender, made errors in the case and he was not represented properly during trial nor through his two appeals. These alleged errors, Mullet argued, clearly warranted vacating his sentence.
However, Polster disagreed with his plea and in a claim-by-claim analysis, he rejected all of Mullet’s arguments one by one. “Because the court determines that none of his counsel’s ’errors’ were prejudicial, the court does not find that Mullet was denied a fair trial,” Polster wrote. “To the contrary, Mullet was represented by a seasoned and effective trial and appellate counsel.”
Mullet is the only defendant who remains in prison.