Amish leader gets 15 years for beard attacks

(CNN) — A leader of a breakaway Amish community in rural eastern Ohio was sentenced to 15 years in prison Friday for forcibly cutting the beards and hair of community members, Court Clerk Robert Pitts said.

Sam Mullet Sr. and 15 followers were found guilty last year of conspiracy to violate federal hate-crime law in connection with what authorities said were the religiously motivated attacks on several fellow Amish people.

Prosecutors said the 15 followers, at Mullet’s instruction, shaved the beards and cut the hair of Amish people who had left his group over various religious disagreements. Five attacks happened in four eastern Ohio counties between September and November 2011.

Four of the followers were sentenced to seven years in prison, three were handed five-year sentences, two were sentenced to two years and six were sentenced to a year and a day, the U.S. Justice Department said.

To the Amish, a beard is a significant symbol of faith and manhood, and the way Amish women wear their hair also is a symbol of faith.

The case was heard in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.