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Jury on fourth day of deliberations in Amish trial

Thursday 20 Sep 2012 9:09 a.m.

The government calls the attacks hate crimes based on religious difference

The government calls the attacks hate crimes based on religious difference

By Thomas Sheeran

Jurors deciding whether a breakaway Amish group committed hate crimes in beard- and hair-cutting attacks on fellow Amish focused on the conspiracy charge Wednesday, the fourth day of deliberations.

The US District Court jury in the trial of 16 Amish reconvened and promptly asked the judge if a conspiracy could involve just some of the defendants.

Judge Dan Aaron Polster told the jury that a conspiracy wouldn't necessarily need to involve all nine victims in the five attacks or all 16 defendants. Defence attorneys argued that the indictment specified a plot against nine victims, but Polster overruled them.

The indictment charges the defendants with conspiring to cause bodily harm to the victims. The judge said that if all 12 jurors agree that the government proved a conspiracy, the jury then must separately decide who plotted.

The government calls the attacks hate crimes based on religious difference. The defence says it was an internal church dispute and doesn't rise to a criminal level.

Prosecutors say the defendants cut off Amish men's beards and women's hair because the hair carries spiritual significance in their faith. They could face lengthy prison terms if convicted.

Defence attorneys acknowledge that the haircuttings took place and that crimes were committed but contend that prosecutors are overreaching by calling them hate crimes.

All of the defendants are members of Sam Mullet Sr's settlement, which he founded in eastern Ohio near Steubenville.

Mullet isn't accused of cutting anyone's hair. But prosecutors say he gave his sons directions to the home of a bishop whose hair was chopped off and mocked the victims in jailhouse phone calls.

The government said all of the victims were people who had had a dispute with Mullet over his religious practices and his authoritarian rule over the settlement he founded.

Some of the defence attorneys said the haircuttings were motivated by family feuds or that the defendants were trying to help others who were straying from Amish beliefs.

AP

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