Jan 28, 2018

Sam Mullet, Amish bishop who orchestrated beard-cutting attacks, asks judge to overturn his convictions

In this Oct. 10, 2011, file photo, Samuel Mullet Sr. stands in front of his home in Bergholz. Mullet has filed a motion to vacate his convictions, following the Supreme Court decision's not to take up his case.(AP file photo)
Samuel Mullet Sr.
Eric Heisig
Jan 12, 2018

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Amish bishop Sam Mullet is asking the Cleveland federal judge who sent him to prison to overturn his convictions for orchestrating a series of beard and hair-cutting attacks on his enemies.

Mullet argues in a motion filed Friday that his former attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Ed Bryan, made a series of errors while representing him at his 2012 trial, and through two appeals. Had Bryan not committed the errors, Mullet's trial may have ended differently, the motion says.

Bryan, who has worked as a federal defense attorney since 1997, admitted to these errors in an affidavit included in the motion.

This includes not arguing on Mullet's second appeal that federal prosecutors were out of line in noting Mullet's alleged sexual misconduct to the jury.

"Although we diligently represented Mr. Mullet at trial and on appeal, we did not represent Mr. Mullet error free," Bryan wrote in his affidavit.

Mullet is now represented by former federal prosecutor Richard Blake. He is asking U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland to overturn his convictions, a high bar to clear legally since Mullet has already lost an appeal.

Mullet also asked to leave prison pending the outcome of his newest challenges.

(You can read the full motion here or at the bottom of this story.)

U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Mike Tobin declined to comment.

Mullet is the leader of a breakaway sect of an Amish community made up of 18 families in the village of Bergholz, located about 100 miles southeast of Cleveland. They were convicted of several crimes in September 2012 for carrying out five nighttime raids in 2011.

Members of the community rousted five victims out of bed and chopped off their beards and hair with horse mane shears and battery-powered clippers. The attackers documented the attacks with a disposable camera.

Men's beards and women's hair have spiritual significance to the Amish.

Prosecutors brought hate-crime and obstruction charges against 16 members of the Amish community. They said the attacks were carried out at the behest of Mullet against the bishop's enemies. Witnesses portrayed him as a fire-and-brimstone preacher who imposed strict, and often bizarre, discipline on his flock.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later overturned the hate-crime convictions, citing faulty jury instructions. Polster re-sentenced all of them to shorter sentences in March 2015 -- with Mullet's sentence being reduced from 15 years to 10 years, nine months in federal prison. The judge noted that it was clear the attacks were religiously motivated.

The 6th Circuit rejected Mullet's appeal in May 2016 and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up his case in February.

Mullet is the only defendant who remains in prison.

The motion to vacate his convictions relies on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim. It says Polster improperly allowed the jury to hear evidence of Mullet's sexual activities, which prosecutors said showed how much control he had over his community. Bryan objected before trial, and a 6th Circuit judge raised the testimony as problematic during Mullet's first appeal, but Bryan did not bring it up the second time around, the motion says.

Mullet also argues that Bryan should have objected to problematic testimony by a government's expert. Donald Kraybill was only supposed to testify generally about the Amish and about the significance of beards for Amish men and long hair for Amish women. Instead, Kraybill talked about how Mullet lead by "coercion and force and threats and intimidation," according to the motion.

Mullet also took issue with Bryan's lack of a specific objection to prosecutors' use of a 2011 article by Associated Press reporter Andrew Welsh-Huggins that contained an interview with Mullet. Prosecutors treated the article as a confession at trial and used a quote of Mullet's from the article out of context, according to the motion.

After serving part of his sentence at a prison in Texarkana, Texas, Mullet is being housed at a federal prison in Lisbon, Ohio.


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