CLEVELAND (AP) — 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 Friday.
Prosecutors outlined the strategy in a legal brief in the case of 16 Amish defendants facing trial Aug. 27 in Cleveland before U.S. District Court Judge Dan Aaron Polster. The government brief said alleged sexual "counseling" of wives by alleged ringleader Samuel Mullet Sr. shows the control he had over followers at their eastern Ohio farm complex.
"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 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.