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A federal appeals court on Wednesday reversed convictions against 16 members of an Ohio Amish community found guilty of hate crimes for forcibly slicing off the beards and cutting the hair of members of other Amish communities.
A judge ruled improper instructions led a jury to convict the members of the Bergholz sect of hate crimes — motivated by dispute over religious doctrine — rather than stemming from the wide range of family and personality conflicts the defendants argued were behind the 2011 attacks on nine people in eastern Ohio.
“When all is said and done, considerable evidence supported the defendants’ theory that interpersonal and intra-family disagreements, not the victims’ religious beliefs, sparked the attacks,” the 2-1 opinion from the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals read.
Samuel Mullet and other members of the Bergholz community he founded were convicted of hate crimes for several attacks on men and women who left the community. Mullet was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. Cutting the beards of men and the hair of women is considered an insult, as it is grown long to show their piety, according to the opinion. The decision leaves the door open to retrials in the case.