CLEVELAND -- The ringleader in hair- and beard-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in Ohio was sentenced Friday to 15 years in prison.
Before his sentencing, Samuel Mullet Sr. told Judge Dan Aaron Polster in Cleveland that he had been blamed for running a cult and was ready to take the punishment. Polster also sentenced 15 other Amish to prison terms ranging from one to seven years.
Mullet, his ankles in chains and a white beard down to mid-chest, said if his community is seen as a cult, "Then I'm going to take the punishment for everybody."
With relatives of victims and his family sitting on opposite sides of the public gallery, Mullet said he has lived his life trying to help others.
"That's been my goal all my life," Mullet, 67, said to a hushed courtroom, with his fellow defendants and their attorneys sitting at four defense tables and filling the jury box.
"I'm not going to be here much longer," said Mullet, who didn't elaborate on any health issues.
Mullet and his family deny his community is a cult. The government asked for a life sentence for Mullet. The defense asked for two years or less.
The 10 men and six women were convicted last year in five attacks in Amish communities in 2011. The government said the attacks were retaliation against Amish who had defied or denounced Mullet's authoritarian style
Amish believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards once they marry. Cutting it would be offensive to Amish.
The defendants were charged with a hate crime because prosecutors believe religious differences brought about the attacks.
Nine of 10 men who were convicted have been locked up awaiting sentencing. The six women, who all have children, have been free on bond.
In a rare interview last week in Bergholz at the sprawling Mullet farm amid rolling hills in eastern Ohio, Mullet's unmarried 19-year-old grandson, Edward Mast, discussed the family's attitude. He said they are steadfast in the belief that the attacks didn't rise to the level of a hate crime.
"The beard, what it stands for me, what I know about it, once you're married, you just grow a beard. That's just the way the Amish is," Mast said.
As for the victims, he added, "They got their beard back again, so what's the big deal about it?"
Arlene Miller, 48, of Carrollton, whose husband, an Amish bishop, was among the victims, thinks Mullet deserves a tough sentence and the others should get less time if they get cult deprogramming counseling.
"It's a cult," she said. "Their minds were programmed in the wrong way by Sam Mullet, so we feel like these people are very deceived and they are actually victims of Sam Mullet."
She said there were no winners in the ordeal.
"There's no happy ending to this," she said.