Photo Shows Amish Beard-Cutting Attack, Prosecutors Say

(CNN) -- Federal prosecutors revealed a photograph Thursday that they say show an Amish man attacking another Amish man by attempting to forcibly cut his beard.

The photo was submitted as evidence in the trial of 16 Amish men and women charged with federal hate crimes in connection with last year's beard-cutting attacks in rural eastern Ohio. The trial started Monday at federal court in Cleveland with jury selection.

To the Amish, a beard is a significant symbol of faith and manhood.

The photo was recovered from a disposable camera that was used to document the attacks, which prosecutors say were ordered by Samuel Mullet Sr., the Amish leader of a breakaway sect and one of the 16 defendants. Prosecutors did not identify the attacker or the victim in the photo in their court filings.

If convicted, Mullet faces 20 years in prison, according to CNN affiliate WOIO in Cleveland.

According to witnesses cited in a federal affidavit, Mullet "forced extreme punishments" on anyone in his community who defied him, "including forcing members to sleep for days at a time in a chicken coop on his property." In addition, the affidavit alleges that, as the bishop of his Amish clan in Bergholz, Ohio, Mullet had "acts of sexual intimacy" with married women as part of "counseling" to "cleanse them of the devil."
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CNN has sought a response from Mullet's attorney, Edward Bryan. Bryan has disputed the prosecution's characterization of his client, according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

"They're trying to create this perception he's something he's not," Bryan told the newspaper. "He's not a wacky cult leader. He's a decent, hardworking, caring man."

Usually, the Amish resolve disputes without involving law enforcement, but concerns that Mullet is operating a cult on his compound prompted some to report the beard-cutting incidents to police last fall.

Myron Miller was held down by men armed with scissors and battery-powered clippers who cut off a chunk of his beard, according to a police report. Arlene Miller said she and her husband decided to report the cutting to police in hopes of preventing other people from being hurt, including Mullet's followers, who "need help," she said.

"There's a lot of lives being messed up down there. There's a lot of people being abused and brainwashed," Arlene Miller said.

The Millers said that a fear of reprisal attacks prompted them and other Amish residents in rural eastern Ohio to lock their doors at night -- something unheard-of in Amish communities.

Mullet's sect is made up primarily of his relatives living on and around an 800-acre compound in a remote valley outside Bergholz, according to Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla.

Prosecutors have said Mullet "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."

Those accusations could play a key part in the trial against Mullet and his co-defendants. Last week, a federal judge ruled that witnesses can testify about Mullet's alleged sexual activities at his compound in Bergholz, according to The Plain Dealer.

When reports of the beard-cutting attacks surfaced last fall, they uncovered an ongoing split between Mullet's sect and the larger Amish community in and around Bergholz, many of whom believe that Mullet is creating rules and punishments that do not fit with the broader Amish belief system.

Aden Troyer said he was once part of the Mullet family compound. He married Mullet's daughter, Wilma, and the couple had two daughters. Concerned about the way Mullet was "ruling" his followers, Troyer said, he started making arrangements to move his wife and children out of the group.
From left, Daniel Mullet, Johnny Mullet, Lester Mullet, Eli Miller and Levi Miller are among those on trial.
From left, Daniel Mullet, Johnny Mullet, Lester Mullet, Eli Miller and Levi Miller are among those on trial.

Not long after, Troyer said, Mullet began interfering with their marriage. Troyer said Mullet would ask women, including his wife, "about their sexual relationships with their husbands."

"That's very atypical behavior for Amish to do that," Troyer said. "It's unheard-of.

"In the Amish community, no one has jurisdiction over what goes on between a husband and wife," he said. "He's the only guy and only leader that I know of that ever has gotten into an Amish couple's married life."

Troyer divorced and left the sect in 2007 with full custody of his two daughters.

CNN traveled to Mullet's compound last fall before his arrest, and Mullet denied that he was running a cult. When asked about allegations that he orchestrated the beard-cutting attacks, he responded, "Beard-cutting is a crime, is it?"

Asked about the accusation that he split up his daughter's marriage to Troyer, Mullet responded, "Maybe you should ask the people whose beards were cut about the marriages they've split up."

He refused to elaborate.

Abdalla, the sheriff, said last fall that he fears the situation could come to a dramatic conclusion.

"If I were to get a call right now telling me, 'Sheriff, they're all dead in the community out there,' it wouldn't surprise me,' " he said.


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